Caucuses begin in Maine, results kept under wraps

Posted Jan. 29, 2012, at 4:41 p.m.

UNITY, Maine — A group of Unity Republicans cast their votes Sunday afternoon at the Unity Union Church meeting hall in a straw poll that capped one of the very first caucuses to be held in Maine.

But the winner of the poll will remain secret for two more weeks, organizers said, as Republican party members in Maine work to make the state’s scattered caucus system more relevant nationally.

The caucus information will be compiled by state party officials, who will release statewide presidential straw poll results on Feb. 11 at a big party meeting at the Portland Regency, according to Susan Russell, the longtime chairperson of the Unity Republicans.

“I think people in the Republican Party were feeling that it just doesn’t matter very much. It’s just a caucus,” she said.

Her husband, Bill Russell, told the 20 people present that the statewide effort aimed to change that sense.

“This year, they’re trying to get more of a fanfare about who won the Maine caucus,” he said. “They’re trying to get national coverage for the Maine caucus system.”

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.

Not every Unity Republican present at the caucus agreed with the secrecy required to keep the results under wraps.

Lois Ongley, the secretary for the caucus, said that it was not a transparent move for the party.

“It’s not meant to be secretive,” Susan Russell responded.

The attendees asked the BDN to leave the room while the vote was tallied and announced to Republicans present.

The vote took place after three young men from the Ron Paul presidential campaign made the case for their candidate.

Regional Director Eric Brakey responded to concerns that Paul could form a third party if he fails to get the Republican nomination.

“Ron has never given any indication he’s interested at all in running a third party,” Brakey said. “Ultimately, what we want to do is defeat Barack Obama, who’s been a terrible president … Maine is crucial to that plan.”

Paul just spent a two-day campaign swing through Maine.

“What is it that Ron Paul brings to the table that gets you young folks involved?” Bill Russell asked.

“It’s the idealism,” Brakey said. “He’s the candidate who says that principles matter.”

Another reason is that he believes the federal government under Paul would cut spending on “useless things like stupid turtle tunnels.”

“It’s going to be left to the young people to pay it off,” he said.

After he left the caucus, Brakey said that his campaign did not allow him to answer more clarifying questions, including where he is based as the regional director.

Paul was the only candidate who had representatives attend the Unity caucus.

Another young person in attendance Sunday was Jami Childress, a 20-year-old Thomas College junior. Attendees voted for her to be the next party chairperson for their town, as the Russells are moving to Burnham.

Although she favors Mitt Romney for president, Childress said that Ron Paul’s campaign got a boost in Unity, thanks to his representatives showing up at the caucus and the candidate’s visit to Maine.

“I think it definitely gave Ron Paul a big lead here in Unity, and in Waldo County in general,” she said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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