November 9, 2012

Embattled Republican chairman on way out

Charlie Webster, who led the party's legislative sweep in 2010 that ended with Tuesday's collapse, cites conflicts with the governor and others.

By Kevin Miller kmiller@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Charlie Webster, the hard-charging partisan who helped orchestrate a Republican takeover in Augusta in 2010 only to see it slip away in Tuesday's elections, said Thursday he will not seek re-election as chairman of the Maine Republican Party.

Charlie Webster
click image to enlarge

Charlie Webster, chairman of the Maine Republican Party, addresses the state convention last May at the Augusta Civic Center. Webster is giving up his post after the party’s poor showing in legislative races this week.

File Photo/The Associated Press

Charlie Webster
click image to enlarge

Charlie Webster

The Associated Press

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Webster announced his decision two days after Republicans lost control of Maine's House and Senate in a hard-fought election that broke spending records for legislative races.

The party made major strides in fundraising and recruiting candidates under Webster but was wracked by internal tension that peaked with a delegate fight during the Republican National Convention.

Webster also battled with Gov. Paul LePage.

"Within two days of (LePage's) election, he made clear that his people were going to run the party," Webster said Thursday evening. "I made clear that wasn't going to happen."

Webster said he believed he had support for another term as party chairman and might have sought one "if we had won again and I had a different relationship with the governor."

He notified Republican State Committee members of his decision Thursday, roughly three weeks before the committee meets to elect party leaders.

"If we had won the Legislature, I might have stayed another term," Webster said. "But I promised my wife that I would only do four years ... to see if we can make a difference, and I think we did."

Brent Littlefield, LePage's political adviser and one of the people Webster suggested wanted to "run the party," chuckled when told of Webster's statement but declined to respond specifically.

"We thank him for his service to the people of Maine and especially for his work to ... put more money in the pockets of working people rather than in ineffective programs," Littlefield said.

The Maine Republican Party made dramatic gains during Webster's tenure, although some have downplayed the extent to which he was responsible for those gains.

In April 2009, Webster and Republican leaders in the Legislature held a news conference on the banks of the Kennebec River in Augusta to unveil what would be essentially a new public campaign.

"Working people vote Republican" bumper stickers and signs began popping up around the state. Webster sought to drive home that point in every media interview, by talking about how Republicans -- not Democrats -- represented the interests of truck drivers, waitresses and other blue-collar Mainers.

Webster was heavily involved in recruiting candidates for legislative races and, in November 2010, his party won control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governor's office for the first time since the 1960s.

Those victories were aided in no small part by the grass-roots efforts of tea party supporters and a national anti-Democratic sentiment.

Webster clashed with LePage -- more specifically, with some of the governor's staff and advisers. Despite tension, Webster helped set the agenda in the Legislature and contributed to the messaging as Republicans pushed for welfare reform, pension reform and lower taxes.

When it comes to grass-roots organizing, "few people can hold a candle to him," said Rep. Andre Cushing of Hampden, who became assistant majority leader in the Republican-controlled House.

"I think he has been one of the most effective advocates for us when it comes to party building, helping with candidates, helping with fundraising," Cushing said. "He is someone who is tireless in terms of going out and meeting folks."

Where Webster was less effective, Cushing said, was in handling administrative tasks, the media and various factions within the party.

Always the Republican bulldog, Webster infuriated Maine Democrats with some of his public statements, such as his unfounded claim that "busloads" of college students had been brought to polls in the past to sway elections in Democrats' favor.

(Continued on page 2)

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Gov. Paul LePage


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