BANGOR, Maine — Republicans in Maine were looking for Mitt Romney to make history Tuesday night by winning the state’s Second Congressional district and for the first time ever splitting Maine’s four electoral votes.
Whether that happens won’t likely be clear until early Wednesday, and the odds that a single electoral vote from Maine will change the outcome of the presidential race are long and depend on a series of other factors falling into place across the United States.
But Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster said northern Maine has leaned right of center for years, a fact he said he expects to become crystal clear Tuesday night.
“I don’t believe Maine is a blue state,” he said. “I expect that the Democrats after this election will have to reassess whether they’re still pertinent in Maine anymore. The Second District is more rural and more conservative. They have a different approach to the level of government they want.”
Webster said that as of two weeks ago, polling from the Romney campaign showed that he led in the Second District, which Webster said led to a focus on the Pine Tree State by the campaign and the national Republican Party.
But Webster’s counterpart in the Maine Democratic Party, Ben Grant, said the prospect of Romney winning the Second District amounts to wishful thinking by Republicans.
“I’m pretty confident that all of Maine’s electoral votes will go to the president,” said Grant. “The Republicans try to sow the seeds of this story every election year. There are still parts of the Second District that are very strong for Democrats. On our side, we always campaign like we’re one vote behind. On the other side, we’re seeing what I call the kitchen-sink strategy. They have started throwing money around the country looking for a place where they can win.”
Douglas Hodgkin, a retired political science professor from Bates College, said even if Romney does win the Second District, he doubts it will have much of an impact on the overall race. That’s because if Romney wins the Second District, it probably means he has done exceptionally well across the country.
“There are some polls that suggest the Second District will be competitive, but the polls have been all over the place,” said Hodgkin. “Romney might not end up needing that one electoral vote.”
Maine has one of the more storied electoral college histories in the nation. When it became a state in 1820, Maine had nine electoral votes — and 10 in 1832, 1836 and 1840, But that number began to dwindle during the 19th century and by 1964, according to a history of the state at www.270towin.com, Maine had its current apportionment of four electoral votes. Because of the Census electoral vote reapportionment in 2010, Maine will remain at four electoral votes at least through the 2020 presidential election.
Maine and Nebraska are the only states in the country that do not automatically award all their electoral votes to the candidate who receives the most votes in the state. In Maine, the statewide winner receives two electoral votes and the winners in the First and Second Congressional District receive one additional vote each. Since the process was established in 1972, Maine has never split its electoral vote, although there is often speculation that this will happen.
Maine voted primarily Republican from the Civil War through the 1980s, voting for Democrats in the presidential election only in 1912, 1964 and 1968. However, Maine has voted for the Democratic candidate in the five presidential elections since 1992, including in 2000 and 2004 when Republican George W. Bush won the national election.
In the four electionsbefore Tuesday, Republicans have had a difficult time with Maine’s popular vote. The GOP garnered 31 percent of the Maine vote in 1996; 44 percent in 2000; 45 percent in 2004; and 40 percent in 2008. Democrats earned at least 49 percent of the vote in those elections, though other party candidates received 7 percent in 2000 and 17 percent in 1996.
Though Maine’s First Congressional District has been a virtual lock for President Barack Obama, according to polling this year, the Second District has been much closer. Republican nominee Mitt Romney has polled within in a few percentage points of Obama in the northern part of the state, with a split of 50 percent for Obama and 47 percent for Romney in a November 2 poll by Gravis Marketing, which based its results on a survey of 509 likely voters. That was within the poll’s margin of error. A Nov. 4 Critical Insights poll, which surveyed 613 likely voters statewide, found that 49 percent of Mainers said they would vote for Obama, with 42 percent saying they supported Romney. Nine percent said they were undecided or favored other candidates.
In a Nov. 2 poll of a much larger sample — 1,633 likely voters — Public Policy Polling found that statewide, 55 percent of respondents supported Obama compared to 42 percent for Romney.
Last year, lawmakers approved a redistricting plan that made the 2nd District slightly more Republican, moving about 2,500 GOP voters into the northern district. The slight shift in district boundaries, passed by lawmakers in September 2011, was much less drastic than the original redistricting plan pushed by Republican lawmakers. The two districts needed to be reconfigured based on 2010 U.S. Census population numbers.