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Campaign 2012

Maine readies for its GOP presidential caucuses

AUGUSTA, Maine - With Iowa’s caucuses just over and New Hampshire’s primary tomorrow, 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 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.

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Party officials say that way, they can announce on Feb. 11 who has won. The timing will also give Maine the full glare of the nation’s spotlight, as it would be the only state that day to trumpet which candidate 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 vote 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 Governor Paul LePage, had not made up their minds by this week whom they would vote for. LePage said he had been contacted by nearly every major candidate.

State Representative Paul Davis of Sangerville, on the Romney campaign’s Maine steering committee four years ago, also had not made up his mind yet.

“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 senator Rick] Santorum’’ of Pennsylvania.

Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was Maine Republicans’ top choice four years ago, as they bypassed eventual nominee John McCain despite his endorsement by US Senators 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; the number will be 24 this year, former GOP state chairman Mark Ellis said yesterday.

This year, Romney has won endorsements of prominent Maine Republicans, including state Attorney General William Schneider, state Senate majority leader Jon Courtney of Springvale, and Senator 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 cannot depend on a solid bloc of support from the Tea Party movement that is active in Maine, says a leader, Andrew Ian Dodge, who is 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 backed Michele Bachmann before she dropped out, said Dodge.

On the Democratic side, caucuses will be Feb. 26.

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