AUGUSTA, Maine — With Iowa’s caucuses just over and New Hampshire’s primary days away, presidential politics to be played out this year are revving up in Maine, where Republicans will hold caucuses over several days next month.
Plans are nearly final for Maine’s presidential preference caucuses, and all of the attention is going to the Republicans, who have several candidates vying for the nomination. Maine’s is among the nation’s earliest GOP caucus dates, with town and city committees being encouraged to gather between Feb. 4 and 11.
Party officials say that way, they can announce on Feb. 11 who has won. The timing will also give Maine full glare of the nation’s spotlight by being the only state that day to trumpet which candidate has won. The nonbinding votes are the first step toward electing 24 Maine delegates to the Republican National Convention.
The only states to get center stage before Maine are Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Florida and Nevada. That puts Maine’s nearly a month ahead of the 10-state Super Tuesday contests March 6.
Going into Maine’s GOP caucuses, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul are said to have the strongest organizations.
But some of Maine’s top party officials, including Gov. Paul LePage, hadn’t made up their minds by this week who they would vote for. LePage said he’d been contacted by nearly every major candidate.
State Rep. Paul Davis of Sangerville, who was on the Romney campaign’s Maine steering committee four years ago, also hadn’t made up his mind this time around.
“Everyone’s called and asked me for support and I just turned them down,” said Davis. “If I had to choose right now, it would be between Romney and (former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick) Santorum,” said Davis.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was Maine Republicans’ top choice four years ago, as they bypassed eventual nominee John McCain despite his endorsement by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. Romney won with 52 percent of the GOP members’ vote in what was essentially a popularity contest.
This year’s votes, likewise, will be nonbinding for delegates who will be elected to attend the state party convention, where delegates to the GOP national convention will be chosen. Four years ago, 18 national delegates were allotted to the state, but the number will be 24 this year, former GOP state chairman Mark Ellis said Sunday.
This year, fellow New Englander Romney has won endorsements of prominent Maine Republicans including state Attorney General William Schneider, state Senate Majority Leader Jon Courtney of Springvale and Sen. Richard Rosen of Bucksport.
Ron Paul supporters have rejuvenated a campaign organization in Maine that was considered efficient four years ago, party activists say. But Paul can’t depend on a solid bloc of support from the tea party faction that’s active in Maine, says a leader, Andrew Ian Dodge, who’s challenging Snowe for the GOP Senate nomination.
“The tea party is as split in Maine as they are in any other state,” with some members supporting Newt Gingrich and others who had backed Michele Bachmann before she dropped out, said Dodge.
On the Democratic side, caucuses will be Feb. 26, party officials said. With President Barack Obama the only party candidate and presumptive nominee, much of the business will focus on electing delegates to the June state party convention.