Sunday, May 26, 2013
Maine and New Hampshire aren't just neighbors. They might as well be siblings.
President Barack Obama
Both states have slightly more than 1.3 million residents, with similar demographics. Politically speaking, Pine Tree State and the Granite State voters may tilt toward one party at any given time, yet they also pride themselves on their Yankee independence.
But when it comes to attention from presidential candidates, the two states couldn't be more dissimilar, despite the fact that each accounts for four Electoral College votes.
Always important in the primary race, New Hampshire in 2012 has already been labeled as a key "swing state" likely to draw major attention from President Obama and Mitt Romney. As for Maine, well ...
"New Hampshire has shown a propensity to turn on a dime. Maine has not," said Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics and co-producer of its popular "Crystal Ball" election forecasting.
Mainers are, by now, probably accustomed to their role as just another spectator to the presidential political frenzy across the border (and many would likely say they are content to keep it that way).
But as the nation barrels head-on into what is expected to be another close race for the White House, it is worth asking a simple question: Is Maine relevant in 2012? And if not right now, can it be by November?
Ask the Obama and Romney campaigns and you will, of course, get the same answer: Yes, Maine is important given the potential for a squeaker of a race.
But several factors at play this year -- combined with a vote-counting process that makes Maine unique -- could truly give Maine a somewhat larger role in 2012.
Public opinion polls, including one commissioned by The Portland Press Herald in late June, show Obama leading Romney among Maine voters.
WINNER TAKES ALL ... MAYBE
The first reason that Maine could rise to something more than a simple afterthought in this year's election is an often-overlooked quirk in the state's election process.
Maine is one of two states -- Nebraska being the other -- where the presidential vote is not necessarily winner-take-all. Maine contributes four electors to the Electoral College, which actually determines who wins the presidency.
But unlike in 48 states, Maine can split its electors if the majority of voters in each separate congressional district supports different candidates. So if Obama picked up the majority of voters in the 1st District and Romney won the 2nd, each candidate would receive one elector. Whoever wins the total statewide vote would then pick up the two at-large electors, resulting in a 3-to-1 split.
While such a scenario has never played out in the 40 years since the policy has been in place in Maine, Nebraska had its first split vote in 2008. And conditions could be ripe for it to happen here this year due to the 2nd District's more conservative bent and the potential for the most competitive congressional race there in years.
"Obama would certainly be favored in the 2nd Congressional District, but I think Romney has a chance there," said longtime election watcher and political science professor Jim Melcher of the University of Maine at Farmington. "A lot of the national reports don't remember that Maine can split its electoral vote by congressional district, so they tend to just lump the whole state in under Obama. I think he is going to carry the state, but I think the 2nd District is at least potentially competitive."
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