McCain campaign amplifies its focus on Maine

Posted Oct. 03, 2008, at 8:58 p.m.

Sen. John McCain’s campaign is moving staff members to Maine and planning an aggressive advertising buy in targeted state markets, a clear indication it expects the presidential race to be close here.

Rep. Josh Tardy, R-Newport, McCain’s vice chairman for Maine, said he wouldn’t be surprised if the Arizona senator or his running mate, Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, visited the Pine Tree State before Nov. 4.

“I’m certainly very hopeful,” Tardy said Friday, a day after the McCain camp announced it was pulling out of Michigan and sending resources to a handful of other states, including Maine. “I would say ‘stay tuned.’”

Recent polls suggest the presidential race in Maine is tight, although there have not been many. A SurveyUSA poll conducted last week showed Sen. Barack Obama’s support at 49 percent to McCain’s 44 percent. A Rasmussen poll from Sept. 17 showed a four-point edge at 50-46 for the Democratic senator from Illinois.

In the last several elections, Mainers have supported Democrats for president, although President Bush lost by about 20,000 votes to Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry in the 2004 race.

Maine is unusual in that it’s one of only two states — Nebraska is the other — that splits its electoral votes by congressional district.

Republicans tend to fare better in the 2nd District, which includes all of northern and eastern Maine. If McCain were to win the 2nd District, he could nab one of the four electoral votes.

Toby McGrath, Obama’s campaign director for Maine, said he isn’t concerned about the McCain campaign’s sudden attention to Maine.

“I think really when it comes down to their strategy decisions, we don’t have to change anything,” he said. “We’ve had a strong ground operation since June and are focused on our door-to-door efforts meeting voters.”

Tardy admitted that while the ramp-up of resources and advertising will be more evident in the 2nd District, he thinks the whole state is in play.

“The [2nd District] has always been friendly territory for Republicans, but we’re not conceding the 1st District,” he said, adding that television and radio ads supporting McCain could begin running as early as next week.

Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine, agreed that the 2nd district would be a toss-up.

“I’m of the opinion that it’s just the one vote in play, but I think McCain thinks the whole state is in play,” Brewer said. “Whether that’s accurate, I don’t know.”

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