PORTLAND — Maine's messy GOP convention denied much-needed exposure for six Senate candidates who are hoping to break away from the pack, and the party's deep divisions that were on display could play into independent Senate candidate Angus King's complaint that the major parties are broken.
The GOP convention was commandeered by Ron Paul activists whose battle with Mitt Romney supporters took up the time allotted for the Senate candidates.
Denied a spot at the podium, Senate hopefuls who'd refined their 20-minute speeches and created video presentations were relegated to speaking to small groups of supporters in empty meeting rooms or in stairwells Sunday at the Augusta Civic Center.
Candidate Scott D'Amboise, who ended up standing on a chair to address 100 supporters, said all the candidates were frustrated.
"It hurts us all," he said. "A lot of people come to conventions having not made up their minds yet. We now have to work ten times harder."
It was a convention that'll be talked about for years to come.
Paul's supporters installed their own convention chairman and won 21 out of 24 delegates to the national convention even though Paul finished a close second behind Romney in Maine's nonbinding presidential caucuses. Romney supporters cried foul, and both sides traded accusations of misconduct.
The divided convention and ugly accusations may play to the advantage of King, who says that both major parties are polarized and that the state needs an independent who can bridge the gap to get things accomplished, said Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.
"If you're looking at this from the outside, it just gives you the impression that the Republican Party in Maine is a mess," Brewer said.
King, who declined to comment Monday, will face Republican and Democratic challengers from a field of 10 who are seeking their parties' nominations for the opportunity to vie for Republican U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe's soon-to-be-empty seat.
The conventions are important for candidates because it gives them an opportunity to address the party's loyal members who are likely to vote.
Two years ago, then-Waterville Mayor Paul LePage's strong showing of support at the convention in Portland underscored momentum that carried him to victory in the governor's race.
Sandy Maisel, director of the Goldfarb Center for Public Affairs at Colby College, said the weekend convention "sort of defies rational explanation about how a political party is supposed to function to me. Isn't the role of the political party to aid its candidates?"
Senate candidate Rick Bennett, a Republican National Committeeman who's a Romney supporter, said that the convention was a sloppy affair and that he would have preferred to have spoken from the podium to the 2,800 people who registered for the convention. But he said the Ron Paul supporters are bringing new energy to the party that will be helpful down the road.
"Democracy is messy. It's better than coronations," Bennett said in reference to King, the two-term governor who has assumed front-runner status.
Maine Democrats will hold their convention early next month, before candidates from both parties vote in the June 12 primaries.
Among independents, King is the only candidate who has filed his nominating petitions to appear on the ballot. Others, such as tea party activist Andrew Ian Dodge and Yarmouth Town Council Chairman Steve Woods, who are mounting independent Senate bids, have until June 1 to file their petitions with the secretary of state.