February 13, 2012

Paul backers, campaign cry foul over GOP caucus tally

The state party affirms results that don't include Washington County, where snow delayed its caucus.

By Jonathan Riskind jriskind@mainetoday.com
Washington Bureau Chief

WASHINGTON — The campaign of GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul and his supporters say the libertarian-leaning Texan was robbed of victory Saturday night when Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the Maine Republican Party’s presidential caucuses.

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Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul tosses balloons to supporters Saturday night at the Seasons Event and Conference Center in Portland. His supporters and the Paul campaign say the cancellation of a local caucus meeting in Washington County robbed Paul of a victory over Mitt Romney.

Gordon Chibroski/Staff Photographer

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The Paul campaign says a local caucus meeting in Washington County that was canceled Saturday afternoon because of a snowstorm would have provided the margin of victory over Romney.

But Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster is standing behind the results showing that Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, won the nonbinding presidential straw poll by 194 votes.

Washington County GOP Chairman Chris Gardner says he is pushing for his county’s votes to be counted next weekend, but conceded that it seems improbable those votes could provide Paul what he needs to overcome Romney’s statewide lead.

Still, “The people of Washington County, they certainly deserve to have their votes counted,” said Gardner. “We are going to proceed and we will push to have our votes counted.”

Independent analysts said any change in the Maine tally now wouldn’t cause much of a stir nationally.

While Romney’s win in the previously low-profile Maine caucuses drew some national media attention and gave Romney a morale boost, much more crucial GOP nominating contests are ahead, analysts said. Paul, a Texas congressman who has yet to win a primary contest, is considered an unlikely candidate to capture his party’s nomination.

A change in the Maine tally would be “a footnote on page B-19,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

But the decision to cancel the Washington County caucus deprived Paul of crucial votes, charged his supporters, many of them from outside Maine, on the Maine GOP’s Facebook page Sunday.

“Glad to see that everyone is standing up and demanding that ALL of the votes be counted in Maine!

The People have spoken, you’d better listen,” said one person who posted a comment on the Maine GOP Facebook page and whose own page identified him as from Ohio.

The Paul campaign also cried foul.

“In Washington County – where Ron Paul was incredibly strong – the caucus was delayed until next week just so the votes wouldn’t be reported by the national media today,” said John Tate, Paul’s campaign manager, in a statement late Saturday night. Tate dismissed the rationale that the caucus had to be canceled due to snow, saying the weather wasn’t that bad.

“The votes of Washington County would have been enough to put us over the top,” he said.

Romney’s victory in Maine – along with his win earlier Saturday in the Conservative Political Action Committee straw poll in Washington, D.C. – provided a much needed boost after defeats Tuesday to Rick Santorum in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.

Romney and Paul were the only Republican candidates who actively campaigned in Maine.

Romney won 2,190 votes, or 39 percent, to Paul’s 1,996 votes, or 36 percent. Santorum came in third with 989 votes, or 18 percent, and Newt Gingrich trailed with 349 votes, or 6 percent, according to the Maine GOP.

Webster, the state GOP chairman, says Romney’s 194-vote margin over Paul is a “snapshot in time” that fairly and accurately represented the results of the Maine caucuses through the announcement Saturday evening at a Maine GOP event in Portland.

The state party had asked individual Republican organizations to hold local caucuses around the state between Feb. 4 and 11. Some caucuses were held earlier than Feb. 4, and those numbers were part of Saturday evening’s tally, but others, such as those of some towns in Hancock County, weren’t scheduled until after Feb. 11, Webster said.

Webster said he considers the straw poll result to be final. Maine’s caucuses were essentially a political beauty contest that involved fewer than 6,000 of Maine’s approximately 260,000 registered Republicans and did not commit to one candidate the state GOP’s 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention. Overall, 1,144 delegates are needed nationally to win the GOP presidential nomination.

Washington County’s Gardner, a Romney supporter, said he disagrees with the state party’s position on his county’s votes.

He said in an interview Sunday that he told Maine GOP officials Friday that the Washington County caucus would be postponed because of the snowstorm forecast for Saturday, but still believed his county’s results would be included in the final tally after local activists gather next weekend.

Gardner said it is only fair to update the statewide tally with Washington County results because it originally planned its caucus meeting inside the window set by the state party.

However, Gardner said a turnout of 300 people next weekend would be big. That would be a far greater turnout than the 150 people or fewer who might have come out during a storm Saturday afternoon. The storm featured 4 to 6 inches of snow but also dangerous blowing and drifting and at least one car accident near the caucus location, he said.

Gardner said that Romney, Paul and also Santorum seem to have a decent number of supporters in Washington County. It seems implausible to think that Paul could make up a 194-vote deficit statewide just with the Washington County caucus, Gardner said.

But he still wants his county’s caucus to he held – and the results counted.

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

jriskind@mainetoday.com Twitter: Twitter.com/

MaineTodayDC

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