Maine GOP re-elects chair following rough 2018 election

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine Republicans who suffered blistering losses in November re-elected their leader and chose an outspoken city mayor as vice-chair Saturday.

The GOP re-elected Demi Kouzounas as chair and chose Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro as vice-chair in a Saturday morning election. Secretary Barbara Harvey and Treasurer Ben Lombard were both re-elected.

The Saturday election of party officers in Augusta comes as Republicans statewide are trying to figure out a path forward following the loss of the governor's mansion and state Senate. Democrats also control the Maine House.

"I'm honored to be entrusted with this position, and focused on winning in 2020," said Kouzounas in a statement. "We are at a turning point as a state and nation, I will fight for the Maine people every day."

Democrats boosted by out-of-state money ran in November on strident promises of expanding access to health care amid rising medical costs and an opioid crisis.

Former Gov. Paul LePage urged Maine Republicans to maintain the same leadership, and blamed losses on division among Republicans and "soft Republican urban women" who were angered over U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' speech defending Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. "We need to be willing to take the fight on, and not simply point fingers," LePage wrote in a letter to the Republican state committee.

Outgoing GOP Vice Chair Ryan Lorrain said Republican messages about financial stability under LePage failed to strike an emotional chord. Lorrain also pointed to concerns over "political correctness." Voters, Lorrain said, may have liked LePage's fiscal wins but disliked what he had to say.

Some Republicans called for an overhaul of Maine's party amid divides between those who are trumpeting LePage's pugnacious, Tea Party-era politics, and others calling for moderation and a focus on policy over style.

The new leadership "has to take all the factions of the Maine GOP and pull them together to get ready for 2020," Harvey said. "They have to start that on Saturday afternoon."

Isgro was ousted as assistant vice president at a bank for tweets last year criticizing a Parkland, Florida, high school shooting survivor. Isgro, who's served as mayor since 2015, blamed a failed recall effort to remove him from office in Waterville on "well-connected and wealthy political elites."

"I'm ready to take the fight to the left," said Isgro in a statement. "We can support good ideas and progress for the American people, but we must never give in to the destructive agenda of the radical left."

Lorrain said Maine Democrats will take advantage of Isgro being a "polarizing" figure to some. Isgro's election Saturday drew immediate criticism from the Lewiston Democratic Party, which cited his election in a fundraising email to supporters.

"There are people who support Nick Isgro and there are people who have strong feelings against him and they can use that to their benefit," Lorrain said.

Maine Republicans must do more to reach out to independent voters, recruit candidates and coordinate absentee ballots, Lorrain said. But those efforts won't be easy amid hurt feelings, apathy and dwindled GOP legislative ranks.

Harvey, for her part, agreed that the election defeats were jarring and that there are divisions and hurt feelings. But she suggested good things could come from the defeat.

"We've heard a lot of concerns and a lot of very hurt feelings, and a lot of surprise and anxiety," she said. "It's going to be very hard for us to get candidates. Sometimes, change is the great catalyst that brings people together."