Friday October 12, 2012 | 12:49 PM

PORTLAND – A new poll conducted for a heavy-hitting Republican political action committee suggests that Maine’s 2nd Congressional District could go to Mitt Romney, allowing him to pick up at least one Electoral College vote.

But with its small sample size and Republican origins (see caveats below), the survey is unlikely to prompt Obama supporters in Maine’s sprawling northern district to pull up their yard signs in despair.

American Crossroads, the super-duper “super PAC” started by Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie, says Romney had a 49 percent to 44 percent lead over President Obama in its poll conducted last week. Statewide, Obama was winning 48 percent to 44 percent.

Maine’s more rural and more conservative 2nd District is undeniably friendlier territory for Romney than  the 1st District. But the American Crossroads poll is the first publicly released survey to suggest that the Republican is actually winning. A September Portland Press Herald poll taken prior to the first presidential debate showed Obama winning 46 percent to 41 percent in the 2nd District.

If true, the implications of the American Crossroads poll could be either huge or negligible, depending on how tight the Nov. 6 election is.

Unlike the winner-takes-all system used in 48 other states, Maine can split its electoral votes by awarding one vote to the winner (or winners) of each congressional district plus two votes to the statewide winner. Such a split has never happened in 40 years, however.

A few caveats to consider about the poll, however.

First of all, although the poll-takers with NMB Research talked on the phone to 500 likely voters statewide, only about one-half of those folks were in the 2nd District. And with a sample size of roughly 250 people, that’s not going to pass the reliability test with many poll observers.

Secondly, the internal poll was conducted by a firm – NMB Research – that is headed by the same people who conduct polling for the Romney campaign under the firm Public Opinion Strategies, as reported here by NBC. While not necessarily unusual or improper, it’s worth mentioning.

Jonathan Collegio, spokesman for American Crossroads, said Friday that the questions on the presidential race were straight forward and simply asked respondents who they were supporting, Obama or Romney.

So can 2nd District residents expect to start seeing ads from American Crossroads, which has already spent more than $25 million on the 2012 campaign with $30 million left in the bank? Collegio left the door open.

“Maine is looking increasingly competitive in the presidential race,” he said. “We’ll be doing more research and polling. But Maine is increasingly in play.”

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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