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GOP Turmoil Could Affect Candidates Across the Board

What do Donald Trump and Paul LePage have in common? For one, a knack for dominating the headlines – but much of that coverage is fueling turmoil within Maine’s Republican party. That could have a significant impact in the elections that are now less than a month away.

Republican candidates for the legislature say that they’re hearing two questions: what do they think about Donald Trump and what do they think about Paul LePage? Trump’s comments about women have alienated a lot of voters, including some Republicans. LePage’s use of profanities and racially charged language has also had some fallout. And attacks from both on members of their own party are causing internal strife.

Take, for example, LePage’s criticism of Republican Senator Susan Collins for her refusal to support Trump:

“She might not like Donald Trump but having a press conference criticizing him, saying, ‘I won’t vote for him,’ is not what we the people that elected her expect of her,” LePage said.

That kind of open criticism is unusual, says University of Maine Farmington political science professor Jim Melcher.

“To be critical of Susan Collins is something some conservative Republicans might say quietly or on blogs,” says Melcher. “But it’s really quite startling to hear the Republican governor of the state take a swing at the er…you know verbally…at the senator that is the most popular senator in her state.”

Collins and LePage are the only Republicans in Maine that hold statewide elective office, and her election margin was much larger than his.

Melcher says it’s a clear indication that the tension between the populist outsiders in the Republican party and traditional Republicans, which has been simmering for several years is now boiling over.

University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer agrees and says what’s happening in Maine is a reflection of a national political phenomenon.

“We really are seeing a party coming apart at the seams, tearing, tearing itself apart,” Brewer says. “I have never seen a major party presidential nominee openly warring with the Speaker of the House of Representatives from the same party. It’s – it’s unheard of.”

Brewer says the meltdown in the GOP will have both short term and long term effects on the party. He says Republican candidates down the ballot are likely to be abandoned by voters who are upset with the party’s presidential candidate and are having a tough time explaining to their children the language being used by major political figures.

Second District Republican Congressman Bruce Poliquin has angered some members of his own party for refusing to say whether or not he is supporting Trump.

Earlier this week in Skowhegan, Poliquin said, “I am not getting involved in any of this media circus that’s surrounding our presidential election.”

In a Facebook post earlier this month, former Republican state senator Doug Thomas stated that if Poliquin does not endorse Trump, he will not vote for Poliquin. On the other hand, self-described Republican women activists have tweeted out that they won’t vote for Poliquin if he does endorse Trump.

Colby College Government professor Tony Corrado says, “Republicans who are in tight races such as Congressman Poliquin are in a ‘damned if they do, damned if they don’t’ position with respect to endorsing Trump.”

But Jason Savage, Executive Director of the Maine Republican Party, downplays the divisions saying that both major parties have always been subject to internal strife.

“I will admit Democrats do a better job of keeping their fighting behind closed doors; Republicans are much more outspoken and
they go to the press,” says Savage. “About the only time a Republican seems happy with media coverage is when they are attacking another Republican.”

Bowdoin College government professor Mike Franz says it’s still not clear how much– if any – of an impact Trump’s, or LePage’s, actions and words will have on voters who are already casting early ballots.

Says Franz, “All of this stuff may not have an immediate impact on the election, and you know, that is one of the bizarre things about it.”

The clash between the warring factions of the GOP may not end with the election next month, says University of Maine’s Mark Brewer. He says there are indications that potential candidates looking to the 2020 presidential race are trying to figure out a strategy based on the split in the Republican party.