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7/24/2013 1:58:00 PM
Governor's Pick Defeats Newcastle Republican For Party Chair
By J.W. Oliver

Newcastle resident Jon McKane, a late entry to a three-way race to lead the Maine Republican Party, could not overcome an early favorite with the backing of Gov. Paul LePage.

The Maine Republican State Committee elected Rick Bennett of Oxford as its next chairman in Augusta, July 20. Bennett was the president of the Maine Senate in 2002 and a U.S. Senate candidate in 2012.

Bennett defeated Sam Canders of Bangor, a small-business man, veteran of the Afghanistan War and 2012 candidate for the Maine House of Representatives; and McKane, a small-business man and state representative from 2004 to 2012.

"The bottom line is, I think Rick Bennett is going to be a great leader," McKane said after the vote. "We're putting our faith in him to bring the party back together."

"We don't have the money and the organization the Democrats have, but Republicans do have the issues," McKane said. "We also have an incredible amount of energy and enthusiasm."

"If you look at the 2012 convention, those people are still out there, and they still don't like the direction the country and the state are heading in, and they still want to do something," he said.

McKane had expressed confidence in his ability to unite the fractured Maine Republican Party prior to the vote.

"The Republican Party is in disarray right now," McKane said July 19. "It's sad to see what has happened to it over the last year."

The divide in the Maine Republican Party dates at least to the chaotic state convention in May 2012, where supporters of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul elected the convention chairman, national convention delegates and state committee members from among their ranks, despite Mitt Romney's win in the February caucuses.

Angry accusations of ethics violations and rule-breaking from both sides, along with the decision by the Republican National Committee to split the delegates between Paul and Romney, contributed to a divide between what many call the party "establishment" and the Ron Paul supporters, who count Canders among their ranks.

"I just want to see if I can bring those factions back together," McKane said. "They're split off and I think some of them are still holding some bitterness, and we have to get past that to make us a viable and strong party again."

Maine Republicans lost control of the House and the Senate, as well as a U.S. Senate seat, in the November election. Maine Republican Party Chairman Charlie Webster did not run for re-election the following month.

The state committee elected former Maine Representatives Richard Cebra of Naples and Beth O'Connor of Berwick chairman and vice chairwoman, respectively. Cebra and O'Connor both resigned within a two-week period in late June and early July.

McKane said Cebra had health problems and O'Connor plans to move to New Hampshire, but media reports point to dissatisfaction with their performance among other party leaders.

McKane declined to align himself with a particular faction of the party.

"I'm called everything from a far-right-wing conservative to, believe it or not, an establishment liberal," he said.

"I'm not going to try to label myself," he said. "We need to have a common-sense government and I think there's a lot of people in the Republican party and a lot of Democrats, too, upset with the direction we're heading in."

McKane had acknowledged he was "somewhat" of an underdog because of his late entry into the race and because of Bennett's widespread name recognition at the state committee level.

His status as a long-shot candidate did not shake his belief in his ability to lead the party. He knows many of the leaders of the various groups within the party and they know his record, he said.

"I'm pretty much an open book and I can talk to them," McKane said. He hoped to be able to persuade party members who feel disenfranchised and disgruntled to "put the past aside" and go back to work alongside their fellow Republicans.

"I'm willing to put the energy into it to meet with these folks and see what we can do to get them back together," he said. "That's the first thing that needs to be done. Before we can really start raising money in earnest, we need to show we are a cohesive unit, a viable unit."

The results of the vote leave McKane free to pursue a return to the Legislature in 2014, although McKane said he has no plans to do so. "I don't want to say 'No, definitely not,' but at this point I really can't see it," he said after the vote.

Newcastle Democrat Mick Devin holds the District 51 seat that was McKane's from his defeat of incumbent Democrat Bill Earle in 2004 until term limits prevented him from defending the seat last year. The Democrats also control the District 20 Senate seat that represents all of Lincoln County except Dresden.

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