January 25, 2013

Maine libertarian fails in bid to lead Republican National Committee

Reince Priebus, of Wisconsin, re-elected in landside; Mark Willis, of Dennysville, fails to make ballot

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

WASHINGTON -- The chairman of the Republican National Committee easily won a second term Friday after the only declared challenger -- a party activist from Maine -- failed to garner enough support to qualify for the election.

click image to enlarge

Mark Willis

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Reince Priebus
click image to enlarge

Reince Priebus

AP file photo

Reince Priebus of Wisconsin was re-elected by Republican party loyalists by a near-unanimous vote at the RNC's winter meeting in Charlotte, N.C. The Associated Press reported that only two of the RNC's 168 committee members did not vote to re-elect Priebus, and both were from Maine.

One of Maine's three committee members, Mark Willis, of Dennysville, has been waging a scrappy campaign in recent weeks to challenge Priebus at Friday's meeting. Willis represents the libertarian wing of the Republican party that backed Texas Congressman Ron Paul during the 2012 Republican primaries.

Willis needed the endorsement of most committee members in at least three states to qualify for the chairmanship election. He reportedly had won endorsements from Maine, Nevada and was working on a third, but by the Thursday night deadline, the Nevada delegation was backing Priebus after meeting with the chairman earlier this week, Politico reported.

"There were certainly some promises exchanged," Nevada committeeman James Smack, a Paul supporter, told Politico. "We're not talking about money. We're talking about promises, though, that he's going to work on getting some doors open for us that have been closed by whatever means -- whether that be through some of the casino owners or what have you."

Willis could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Willis' longshot candidacy and his failure to get on the ballot underscore the challenge facing the small but vocal ranks of libertarians within the Republican party. He gained credibility within those ranks last summer when he and other pro-Paul delegates from Maine fought unsuccessfully to keep their seats at the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

By securing a nomination at Friday's RNC meeting, Willis could have forced a public debate with Priebus about the party's huge losses in November and the treatment of Paul and his supporters.

However, most RNC members were content to avoid airing an internal debate as the party tries to regroup after November. All of the candidates for party leadership positions ran unopposed.

Following his re-election, Priebus told the gathering that the party needs a "permanent, national field infrastructure" based in communities throughout the country with the latest digital tools -- a reference to the massive, high-tech operation that propelled President Barack Obama to victory in 2008 and 2012. Priebus said the party must also change and grow to survive.

"We have to find more supporters. We have to go places we haven't been, and we have to invite new people to join us," Priebus said.

Kevin Miller -- 317-6256


Twitter: @KevinMillerDC

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