How Ron Paul may have won — and lost — Maine
Washington County, Maine, is the easternmost point in the continental United States. This region of rocky shores and pinetree forests is populated by proudly independent — and defiant — citizens.
The Republicans in Washington County have supported such radical and underdog candidates as Ross Perot and Patrick Buchanan in the past.
Too bad they didn’t get to participate in the Maine caucuses last weekend.
Due to a snowstorm, the Republican party in Washington County (and in various locations in neighboring Hancock County) was forced to reschedule its caucuses for this coming weekend. Yet despite not having results from these precincts, Maine Republican Chairman Charlie Webster declared Mitt Romney the victor in the Maine caucus. Romney, Webster reported, earned 2,190 votes, while Ron Paul finished second with 1,996 votes.
According to the Associated Press, the chairman of the Washington County Republican Party, Chris Gardner, a Romney supporter, called state party leaders and expressed his “complete and utter dismay.” Washington County Republican leaders, who moved their caucuses to this coming Saturday after snow made it difficult to meet last weekend, will convene these postponed caucuses this Saturday, and County Chair Gardner is hoping that state party officials will change their mind and accept the results.
He shouldn’t hold his breath.
After all, the Republican leadership in Maine refused to accept the results of other caucuses that were completed in time. Eighteen towns that held caucuses in Waldo County reported their results by the Feb. 11 deadline, yet those totals showed up nowhere in the final tally. Nor did the results from Waterville or Belfast make it into the GOP numbers even though the caucuses held in those towns were also completed by the deadline.
The one variable that links each of these cases is Ron Paul. If all of Waldo County’s caucus totals counted (including the excluded results), Paul would have won by 21 votes. Paul was the only candidate to visit Waterville, where he spoke to students at Colby College and tallied 16 more votes than Romney in the excluded Waterville caucus. When the chairman of the Belfast Caucus Committee telephoned his results showing a Paul victory to the state’s Republican headquarters, he was told they already had the numbers. Those numbers mysteriously — and inaccurately — showed a Romney victory in Belfast. When the final tally for Maine’s caucus was announced, zero votes from Belfast were included. Interestingly, not a single case of excluded caucus results supporting Romney has been publicly identified yet.
Gardner expects a large turnout this Saturday. “Based upon the fact that this year’s caucuses ginned up a lot of interest, we were anticipating there would be north of 200 people there,” the county GOP chairman told Dave Weigel at Slate.com. “Now that we’ve gotten the attention, the amount of attendees we’ll see is anyone’s guess. I’d be shocked if we saw lower turnouts as a result of this.”
Sentiment around Maine is that Ron Paul will likely win the Washington County caucuses to be held this coming Saturday. He only received eight votes from the county in 2008, but statewide in 2012, even without the votes in question from Waldo County, Belfast and Waterville, Paul almost doubled his vote total from 2008. Romney, on the other hand, saw his statewide vote count decline from 2,837 votes in 2008 to 2,190 votes in 2012. Another factor is that Washington County has both a proud, independent tradition in electoral politics and the kind of community and public college population that often provides support for Ron Paul.
But even if Paul doesn’t win, the electoral process has still been tainted. Not allowing people in at least a county and a half to have their preferences registered in Maine’s caucuses, particularly those in areas that all political observers believe favor one candidate, skews the results and undermines democratic input. At the same time, the announcement of the vote last Saturday opens the door to political mischief and challenges democracy as well. In general, caucuses attract a small percentage of citizens who can devote hours to them and consistently have much lower turnout than primaries. But in a place like Maine, where town meetings still make local budget decisions, many have been loath to shift to primaries, which require less from citizens but involve more people.
If Paul were to win Maine, he would join Rick Santorum, who “lost,” then won, the Iowa caucus, as a twin victim of a system geared against outsiders. The lesson of Iowa and Maine, it would appear, is that perhaps the Republican Party should closely examine its own electoral procedures before worrying about general election processes in the rest of the country.
Why should those (like us) who are not Ron Paul supporters — or even Republicans — care about what has happened in Maine and Iowa? Because important questions concerning democratic processes and how results are skewed and reported are being ignored by the national media. Until the 2000 presidential election turned on how votes were counted (or not counted) in Florida, the rickety mechanisms of casting and tallying votes received little attention. What just happened in Maine should raise questions about systems run by state and local party officials that are not governed by set processes and laws, but that still affect reporters’ stories and the trajectory of the nomination contest. Just imagine if journalists at CNN, the New York Times and CBS News reported (accurately) that Rick Santorum won Iowa and that Ron Paul will win Maine. The narrative of the election would be significantly altered and the inevitability of Mitt Romney’s victory would be called into question. Maine’s caucus mess isn’t easily or quickly cleaned up. This untidiness should prompt journalists to take their time before declaring a winner when it’s not certain who prevailed.
It might be too late for Iowa and Maine. But it’s not too late for journalists to approach future primaries and caucuses mindful of the mistakes they’ve made so far. Producing accurate, independent reporting should be the goal at this point. It might make up for earlier mistakes.
We’re not holding our breath.
PHOTO: Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) addresses supporters at his Maine caucus night rally in Portland, Maine, February 11, 2012. REUTERS/Brian Snyder