The field of candidates has narrowed over the past three weeks but still no clear frontrunner has emerged, which is expected to result in a large turnout by Maine Republicans as they hold presidential nominating caucuses throughout the state over the next several weeks.
Adding to the interest is the potential for several of the four remaining GOP candidates to campaign here, including Texas Rep. Ron Paul, whose supporters announced plans Monday for him to be in the state on Friday and Saturday.
There have been three statewide primaries or caucuses conducted out of Maine already, and each has resulted in a different winner. Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania narrowly won the Iowa caucus on Jan. 3; former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won the Jan. 10 New Hampshire primary; and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich won the South Carolina primary last weekend.
Michael Quatrano, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, said Monday that he thinks the tightness of the race will lead to a good turnout at the Maine Republican caucuses, which are expected to begin in earnest the first weekend of February.
“There’s a lot of people who haven’t made their minds up,” Quatrano said. “It has that [anticipated] feel about it. It’s important.”
Quatrano said the Romney and Paul campaigns each have had a strong presence in Maine but that Santorum and Gingrich also have support among Maine GOP voters. Romney won Maine’s caucuses in 2008, when he took 52 percent of the vote, and Paul got 18 percent. The eventual 2008 Republican nominee, Sen. John McCain, got 21 percent four years ago.
Quatrano said the 2012 Maine caucuses could draw out more GOP voters than the ones in 2008, which attracted more than 4,500 registered Republicans, but he stopped short of making a prediction.
As it did in 2008, when Maine’s position in the primary season drew Democratic candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton to Bangor, the contested GOP race this year feasibly could result in multiple Republican candidates coming to Maine. After Maine, Arizona, Michigan and Washington are expected to hold votes for the Republican candidates before the 11-state “Super Tuesday” contest on March 6.
According to the Free Press newspaper of University of Southern Maine, Paul is scheduled to speak at 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 28, at USM’s Gorham campus. Paul made a campaign appearance at USM’s Portland campus in 2008.
Paul campaign staffers sent out information Sunday indicating that Paul likely would make other appearances in Maine on Jan. 27 and 28 but that details had yet to be worked out.
The earliest GOP caucuses in Maine this year take place at the end of this month and some are scheduled to be held after Valentine’s Day, but Quatrano said he expects most of them to be done by the evening of Saturday, Feb. 11.
“I think there will be only a few stragglers left at that point,” Quatrano said.
He said the Maine Republican Party plans to announce at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 11, how the candidates did in Maine’s caucuses.
Eight counties in Maine each plan to have a single countywide caucus — Feb. 4, 5 and 11 — while in other counties the meetings will be held at different locations, often on different days. Some, such as municipal caucuses in Fairfield and Millinocket, are scheduled to be held before the end of January. At the other end of the schedule, about a dozen towns in Hancock County are expected to hold their caucuses on Feb. 18.
More specific information about where and when Republican Party caucuses will be held in Maine is available at the party’s website, www.mainegop.com.
Democrats, who are expected to renominate President Barack Obama, are scheduled to hold caucuses throughout Maine on Sunday, Feb. 26.
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.