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Maine voters savor their role as possible tiebreaker

ORRINGTON, Maine — That a single electoral vote could swing the presidential election is a tantalizing prospect among this state’s denizens. Forget New Hampshire, Ohio, and Florida: As northern Maine goes, so could the White House.

The possibility — very remote as it is — stems from a local voting anomaly and a tight national election. Maine and Nebraska are the only states in which electoral votes could be split — they give the winner of the overall tally two votes and the winner of each of their congressional districts one vote.

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If Republican Mitt Romney takes Maine’s more conservative Second Congressional District, even while losing the state , that could be decisive.

“It’s a little amazing,” said Jim Goody, a selectman in Orrington, just outside Bangor, the largest community in Maine’s sprawling Second District. “No one really cared about Maine. All that everybody’s been talking about is Ohio, ­Iowa, and those other states.”

The likelihood of the election coming down to Maine is tiny. There are a handful of permutations that could give Maine a tiebreaking role and give Romney the 270th electoral vote needed to win, the most plausible involving Romney victories in Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina, and Virginia — and President Obama winning New Hampshire, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

The purchase of TV ad time in Maine by super PACs supporting Romney has fueled speculation that Republicans are poised to aggressively contest the Second District. Restore Our Future has reportedly reserved $300,000 for spots targeting voters there. Crossroads GPS has begun running ads.

Yet, despite a recent Republican poll that showed Romney with a slim lead in the district, some analysts are unconvinced he will win there.

“There would be a higher probability if there was more money thrown into the state, or if somebody important visited the state — anybody, somebody,” said Amy Fried, a political science professor at the University of Maine in Orono.

Obama visited Maine the spring for a fund-raiser but hasn’t been back to campaign. Romney has not visited at all.

Maine was once reliably Republican, but GOP contenders have not won any of its electoral votes since 1988, when George H.W. Bush took all four.

Four years ago, Obama won the state against Republican John McCain, 58 percent to 40 percent, capturing all four electoral votes.

Yet the state also has an unpredictable side. Libertarian-leaning Ron Paul still has a devoted following here. The biggest race this cycle is the election to replace Republican Senator Olympia Snowe. And that race has been dominated by an independent, former governor Angus King.

Obama won the Second District by a narrower margin in 2008 — 55 percent to 43 percent — than the state. The district covers nearly 80 percent of the state, its voters are mostly white and tend to be older than the country’s median age.

“The people in the Second Congressional District are fed up,” said David Sorensen, the spokesman for the state Republican Party, which is using its call centers to get the vote out for Romney. Winning at least one electoral vote, he said, “is not beyond the realm of possibility.”

Obama campaign spokesman Michael Czin said, “We’re confident that we’ll carry Maine and all of its electoral votes, but we’re not taking our foot off the pedal and we’re not taking anything for granted.”

If Romney has any chance, however, he will need the support of folks like Goody, the Orrington selectman. He is an avid hunter who worries about gun control and the struggling economy and remains undecided about who will get his vote.

“You’re not going to find any Obama stickers on the trucks of our members, even if they support the president,” said Goody, adding that he is reassured on the issue by Romney’s running mate, US Representative Paul Ryan, who talks often about his love for hunting.

“There are bigger issues than guns — the economy and housing market. Health care. Obama is putting people back to work,” his wife, Teresa, interjected during a recent dinner.

If lawn signs are any measure of political allegiances, this community is a tossup. A hand-painted sign outside of Heather Bowden’s house was simple in its message: OMG — Obama Must Go.

“It’s kind of catchy,” she said, before rattling off the reasons for wanting Obama out of the White House: Obamacare, “government handouts,” and his disrespect for what she said was Scripture’s definition of marriage.

Obama endorsed a state ballot measure last week that would grant same-sex couples the right to marry.

While the Romney campaign is trying to play up the possibility of taking one of Maine’s electoral votes, Obama campaign officials say the Romney campaign’s relative absence in the state was more telling.

Revealing too is this: Maine and New Hampshire both offer four electoral votes. In Maine, the Obama campaign has three offices. In tossup New Hampshire, it has 22.

Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at bobby.calvan@
globe.com
. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.
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