Ethan: I can’t believe the Republican Party didn’t take me up on my offer to become chairman!
Phil: You might have had a shot if you weren’t so eager to raise taxes.
Ethan: You mean like Republicans did this year?
Phil: I warned them that raising taxes would come back to haunt them in 2014. You don’t need to remind me of the Democratic campaign tricks this early.
Ethan: All kidding aside, now that your party has selected Rick Bennett, I thought this might be a good opportunity to offer him some advice on reversing your party’s slide. In 2010, Republicans ran both branches of the State House, occupied the governor’s mansion, and had two U.S. senators with an R next to their name. Today, three of those are gone (House, Senate, Olympia), and if you don’t do something serious, you’ll be down to one (Susan Collins) in a year.
Phil: Those were exciting days. Maine was on the move for the first time in 40 years.
Ethan: So, what’s your first bit of advice for the honorable former Senate President?
Phil: Bennett is a friend, a former Maine Senate colleague, successful businessperson and a pillar of the community in western Maine. He also has solid relationships with former legislators from which he can build contacts all over the state. Simply put, be yourself.
Ethan: Well, “being yourself” better include getting up in the governor’s grill. Gov. Paul LePage is going to be the first one-termer in 50 years if someone doesn’t reel him in.
Phil: I wouldn’t suggest “getting up in his grill” as much as I’d suggest some time around a barbecue grill. The governor and Bennett must break bread and strategize on how the governor can speak in a style befitting the office.
Ethan: You are much more diplomatic.
Phil: Bennett should be out front speaking on behalf of Republicans, including the governor, to build a clear distinction and advocate for a better result. LePage should continue making policy and budget statements and leave the rest to Bennett.
Ethan: After getting the governor in line, Bennett’s job No. 2 has to be winning the Senate District 19 special election in Sagadahoc County. If you don’t win that seat, you have no shot at winning the Senate. Plus, the power of winning a special election can provide great momentum, as we saw when Democrats first won the special election in Senate District 20 in 2011 (Chris Johnson over Dana Dow) and then won back both Houses.
Phil: Yeah, this is a must win if Bennett is going to get off to a good start. He could use this victory to rejuvenate deflated Republicans and silence all your musings about how we Republicans went from roosters to feather dusters in just one election cycle.
Ethan: The problem for Republicans is that your grassroots structure is in shambles after three years of infighting. And, as you know, grassroots is key to winning an election at the end of August when about 17 people will actually vote.
Phil: I’m impressed. I thought you just opined from the keyboard and WLBZ2/WCSH6 studios. You actually understand the tactics most analysts overlook.
Ethan: Not just a pretty face, big guy.
Phil: All sarcasm aside, you are correct: Reinvigorating grassroots support matters most. Bennett has legislative relationships spanning back to his days in the House in the early 1990s, the Senate in the 2000s, and the ones he built personally from his campaigns for Congress. His success will be found in reaching out to them for a helping hand.
Ethan: OK. Job No. 1 is LePage. Job No. 2 is the special election. Job No. 3 is grassroots. What is job No. 4?
Phil: Recruiting great candidates who will listen when it comes to developing their message. Different parts of Maine have different issues, and they will need his expertise to target their messages. Plus, many of these folks are rookies in spending campaign money and managing volunteers. Bennett will need to make sure they are trained and disciplined.
Ethan: Easier said than done. Job No. 5?
Phil: He has to raise some serious cash, also known as jet fuel. Approaching donors will be easy. Convincing them that his strategy has the support of state committee members and candidates is going to determine if they will write the check.
Ethan: From what I hear, your party is broke. You raised $20,000 so far this year but spent $60,000! Why is it that ideological conservatives are such bad actual conservatives when it comes to money management?
Phil: Oh, you just can’t help yourself when you see an opening to suggest hypocrisy.
Ethan: Especially conservative hypocrisy. And since there is so much of it, I always have something to write about!
Phil: Well there’s nothing hypocritical about a party not stockpiling funds before they need them. Both parties do it. So that’s it. Five easy steps for Bennett to rebuild the Republican Party for victory in 2014.
Ethan: Yeah, but in the end, you’ll still need one more step. Convincing people that Republican policies are actually good for Maine. And that, my friend, is a magic trick even Houdini couldn’t pull off.
Phil: Oh, ye of little faith that Mainers seek a conservative government.