Tucked away from the political spotlight in the Northeast corner of the country, the state of Maine has been quietly caucusing since Saturday, February 4. However, given the Santorum Surprise this past Tuesday, all eyes are now on the the Pine Tree State, where caucus results will be announced Saturday. (Not ones to be rushed, Mainers caucus for an entire week, known as a “lazy caucus.”)
But it’s not Rick Santorum that could steal victory from Mitt Romney in Maine. It’s the doctor from Texas: Congressman Ron Paul.
Maine could mark the first GOP primary victory for Paul, who has devoted time and energy since January stumping in the state. While Romney’s Super PAC was busy outspending Santorum 40-1 in his unsuccessful attempt to chalk a win in Missouri, Minnesota, or Colorado, Paul was hitting all corners of Maine, from Bangor to Freeport. Paul’s libertarian-leaning instincts play well in a state where residents prize their independent streak.
This enthusiasm for Paul has Romney scrambling, as a loss in Maine would spell his fourth defeat in as many days — and even worse, a defeat in a state considered his backyard, neighboring New Hampshire and Massachusetts. “People realize the choice is Romney or Paul in Maine,” said Maine GOP Chairman, Charlie Webster, to the Portland Press Herald.
In caucus gatherings held earlier this week, Paul supporters have urged Mainers to choose their candidate. With densely populated southern Maine counties caucusing this Saturday, the impact of Romney’s earlier drubbing this week may provide Paul just the opportunity he needs to seal a victory.
The Romney campaign has moved into high gear, with a visit — his first of the campaign — scheduled for today in Portland. But with one of his stops planned for Portland Yacht Services, this may play poorly in a state where national attention was recently paid to the plight of Mainers unable to afford heating oil in the dead of winter.
In a primary season of low turnouts, the time candidates spend in each state meeting with voters matters all the more. By this measurement, Romney has a lot of catching up to do in Maine, and precious little time to do it.