In One Maine County, Every Caucus Vote May Count

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Washington County, Maine, is not a place for unhardy souls.

It's the easternmost county in all of New England, and one of the poorest. And at this time of year, people in Down East Maine do anything they can to eke out a living.

"I get about six months out of it," county resident Hartley Goston said, referring to his lobster boat, The Darian Sue. "I get a few odd jobs here and there to help tie up some loose ends."

Goston's boat sits up on blocks outside his house in the coastal town of Milbridge. Down the road stands a sign advertising Goston's part-time welding business.

Goston's in the garage fixing a trailer when a friend drops in with some fliers for GOP presidential candidate Ron Paul.

Fellow lobsterman Billy Bob Faulkingham is an avid Paul supporter, and wants to make sure Goston shows up at Saturday's rescheduled caucus. Bad weather forced cancellation of the county's caucus when most of the state voted last week.

Making A Difference?

When the Maine GOP announced the straw poll outcome last Saturday in favor of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney — without Washington County's votes — a mini-firestorm erupted.

The chairman of Ron Paul's campaign here argued that the Texas congressman had enough support Down East to close the gap with Romney.

He also alleged that state party officials, who support the former Massachusetts governor, had canceled the Washington County caucus to give their man a boost.

"There is no grand conspiracy here," said Chris Gardner, the Republican chair in Washington County and a Romney supporter. He says the decision was made by committee.

"I consulted, as the party chair for Washington County, with all the different caucus callers in each town. And they represent a wide array of presidential support for each different candidate. They were all given the chance to either go or not go, and no town chose to go," said Gardner.

Romney staffers did not return emails and calls for comment on the Maine situation. And the Paul campaign has since backed off the hard line it took on caucus night.

Nonetheless, some top Republicans in Maine want party officials to recalculate the straw poll vote even though it has no bearing on delegate selection, which will take place at a state convention in a few months.

"There's no purpose to continuing on with this debate," said Charlie Webster, the Maine GOP chairman.

He says he's not opposed to adding the Washington County votes.

Outcome Remains Indecisive

But Webster says it's a decision the state committee will need to make at its meeting in early March. And he insists that based on what happened in Washington County four years ago, Saturday's vote isn't likely to change the outcome this time.

"Ron Paul received eight votes in 2008. There were 113 people who voted, and he got eight votes," said Webster.

He doubts Paul's supporters can turn out the hundreds of additional people needed to overcome Romney's nearly 200-vote lead statewide. But other Republicans in Maine say Paul's supporters are much more energized this time around, and a huge showing Saturday isn't out of the realm of possibility.

Meanwhile, Guston's friend Billy Bob Faulkingham hands him some fliers to distribute, while encouraging him to become a delegate.

"So when I go to this caucus, I just say I'd like to be a delegate?" Guston asks his friend.

"Just say, 'I want to be a delegate.' First opportunity arises ... raise your hand and just don't take no for an answer," Faulkingham responds.

Faulkingham will be making a variation of this pitch over and over between now and Saturday.

The Paul camp is focusing on sending as many delegates as it can to the state convention in May. That's where Maine's slate of 24 delegates to the national convention in Tampa will be named.

Copyright 2012 Maine Public Broadcasting Network. To see more, visit http://www.mainepublicradio.org/.

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