McCain campaign touts independents, Dems

Posted Aug. 25, 2008, at 10:31 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign announced a state campaign group of independents and Democrats on Monday, similar to an organization that Sen. Barack Obama’s campaign also has set up.

Political observers expect more such groups to form as both major presidential campaigns target Maine and its four electoral votes.

“I have supported John since last year,” state Rep. Tom Saviello, an independent from Wilton, told reporters Monday. “I have admired this man for a long time.”

After serving two terms as a Democrat, Saviello was elected as an independent in 2006 and is running for re-election as an independent this fall. He said that when he was asked to chair the McCain effort to attract independents and Democrats in Maine, he was thrilled to take up the challenge.

“I have never done anything like this before,” he said. “I will do whatever I can to help the campaign.”

Saviello believes he can help rally Democrats and independents to McCain, but House Speaker Glenn Cummings, D-Portland, said he doubts Saviello can attract many of them with his record of supporting the GOP in the House.

“In effect, it’s almost like saying Republicans for Republicans,” Cummings said.

He said the McCain campaign could have found an independent or Democrat to lead the group who would have more credibility with voters than Saviello. He said he was puzzled at their choice.

“I think that [McCain] fits the independent pattern we have in this state, and when people see that, he will get their support,” Saviello said. “We elected two independents as governor. We have two United States senators that are pretty independent, and we have congressmen that are fairly independent in the way they vote.”

Jessica Santillo, communications director for the Maine Obama campaign, said there are many groups of voters already organized to support his election in Maine. She said there is a Republicans for Obama group as well as a veterans group, a women’s group and Farmers for Obama.

“Obama’s unprecedented grass-roots campaign in Maine cuts across party lines. Democrats, Republicans, independents, and Green Party members throughout the state are working to make real change happen this November,” she said.

Saviello said McCain is already on record that he plans to campaign again in the state, and Democrats have said they expect both Obama and his expected running mate, Sen. Joseph Biden, will visit the state.

“Maine can split its [electoral] vote and the 2nd District is more conservative,” Saviello said. “It will be a battleground.”

Maine and Nebraska cast their electoral votes by congressional district, with the overall winner getting the two remaining votes. Political observers believe that means the state will be targeted in what is shaping up as potentially a close vote in the Electoral College.

University of Maine political science professor Mark Brewer said that while Obama appears to be leading statewide in the polls, the 2nd District is more conservative and McCain is closer to Obama in that part of the state.

He said creating various groups of supporters into campaign organizations is a standard campaigning technique. He said there are often groups based on professions, such as lawyers or teachers, organized to support a candidate.

“I don’t think Obama can take the 2nd District for granted,” Brewer said. “There are a lot of independent-minded voters in the 2nd District, and they can be very important in a close race.”

Bowdoin College government professor Chris Potholm said Monday that groups such as Citizens for McCain have been very influential in the past. He said a group called Republicans for Muskie was a major reason Edmund Muskie was elected governor in 1954.

“But at the current time I don’t think they are very effective at all,” he said. “I suspect the presidential campaigns are so awash in money they have to spend it on something. These groups all talk about grass-roots effort, but I think it is just that, all talk.”

Both professors expect more groups will be formed by both campaigns in the weeks ahead.

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