Friday, March 7, 2014
WASHINGTON — Changes might be coming to the way Republicans participate in presidential primaries as party leaders try to avoid a repeat of a 2012 election marred by messy meetings and intraparty fighting.
Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, says Maine Republicans may have to shift the timing of presidential caucuses and preference polls to meet new party rules.
2013 Telegram File Photo/Gordon Chibroski
On Friday, members of the Republican National Committee voted to shorten the process for choosing a presidential nominee. The changes protect the pre-eminent position enjoyed by early voting states such as New Hampshire and Iowa but also aim to avoid the type of drawn-out, bruising primary battle that many believe hurt Mitt Romney’s 2012 campaign.
“I think the process for nominating the president has dragged on too long,” said Rick Bennett, chairman of the Maine Republican Party and one of the state’s three votes on the Republican National Committee. “I think compressing it and moving the (national) convention earlier is a good idea. And I felt most of the rules changes were geared toward that.”
Some changes are likely to affect Maine Republicans, although to what extent remains unclear.
One major shift under the new rules is that states which hold primaries or caucuses prior to March 15 can award their delegates proportionately, allowing multiple candidates to receive votes during the national nominating convention. Those held after March 15, however, would be winner-take-all.
The result will likely be intense competition during early-state voting but a shorter road to victory for whichever candidate emerges as the front-runner. Republicans also called for fewer debates than the 27 held in 2012.
Bennett suggested that Maine may need to shift the timing of caucus or preference polls, which have often been held on different dates by counties anywhere from February to mid-March. Another option would be to handle the delegate-election business at the state convention.
“Maine is going to have to adapt to whatever the rules are,” Bennett said. He indicated, however, that those decisions will likely wait until after the more immediate focus: the 2014 gubernatorial and State House elections.
Bennett was recruited to serve as chairman in part to heal deep wounds that developed within the party during a 2012 power struggle between supporters of Romney and Ron Paul, the former Texas congressman embraced by the libertarian wing of the Republican Party.
According to Maine party officials, Romney narrowly won a series of county caucuses held in February of that year. But the county-by-county preference polls were plagued with problems that left many votes uncounted, at least initially.
Suspecting a pro-Romney plot by the Republican “establishment,” Paul supporters took control of the state convention months later and elected to send a slate of mostly Paul supporters to the Republican National Convention. National Republican leaders – determined to keep the convention a Romney pep rally – ruled that Maine’s convention was improperly run and replaced half of Maine’s Paul convention delegates with Romney supporters.
The plight of Maine’s pro-Paul delegates became a rallying cry for the party’s libertarian wing.
Although barely discussed during Friday’s meeting, the new rules appear aimed at avoiding such situations again by shortening the nomination process. Some observers believe that benefits well-established and well-funded candidates while hurting grassroots campaigns such as the one run by Paul in 2012.
Friday’s vote was lopsided but not unanimous. One of the nine dissenting votes was cast by Ashley Ryan, one of Maine’s three Republican National Committee members.
Ryan was among the Maine delegates who supported Paul in Tampa. She voted against Friday’s rules changes in part because she didn’t believe members were given ample time to review them.
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