AUGUSTA — Maine Democrats reeling from devastating election losses are preparing to choose a new leader on Sunday.
Ben Grant, chairman of the party for the last four years, announced his decision to step down days after Democrats lost their bid for the Blaine House, the Second Congressional District, control of the state Senate, and several seats in the state House.
Grant, who said he had planned to leave no matter the outcome of the elections, is urging his successor to examine where the party fell short. He said it is clear that Democrats need to find a better way to explain their policies to voters.
''We have to keep redefining our message,'' Grant said after declaring last week that he would not seek reelection.''We put everything we could into the field effort. But we have to get better about talking to voters about the issues.''
While GOP Governor Paul LePage ran on the clear and popular platform of welfare reform, Democrat Mike Michaud and his campaign struggled to define the Democrats' message in the three-way race with independent Eliot Cutler, ''other than that they were not Paul LePage,'' said Mark Brewer, a University of Maine political science professor.
Phil Bartlett, a national committee member and former state Senate majority leader who is vying to replace Grant as chairman, said the party needs to broaden its base and speak to the emotions of Maine voters.
''The Republicans really had the emotion behind their message and they really did a good job of giving voice to the very real anxiety that people are feeling,'' Bartlett said. ''As Democrats, we have to recognize that . . . without backtracking on our core values.''
Also vying to lead the state party is Melissa Sterry, said Mary-Erin Casale, its executive director. Sterry lost to Grant for the role in 2011.