Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Paul Campaign Challenges Romney's Maine Win


WALL STREET JOURNAL | Janet Hook | February 13, 2012  6:02 PM
Mitt Romney's squeaker victory in Maine's GOP presidential caucuses is being challenged by Ron Paul, who has fixed the spotlight on a remote rural county and is asking this pressing question: Was it a heavy snowstorm or just a light dusting that fell Saturday night in the easternmost reaches of the state?

Anticipating inclement weather, GOP officials in Maine's Washington County postponed their Saturday caucus for a week. But state party officials said those belated votes won't be allowed to change the outcome they announced Saturday night—that former Massachusetts Gov. Romney had won a statewide straw poll by 194 votes over Rep. Paul, a Texas libertarian.

Washington County Republicans have rescheduled the caucus for next Saturday in East Machias, which could become a mecca for aggrieved Ron Paul supporters who believe the county could provide him the margin of victory.

The county's Republican chairman, Chris Gardner, has petitioned the state GOP to factor in their votes. The state party committee will consider the request at its next meeting March 10, said Michael Quantrano, executive director of the Maine GOP.

In the meantime, Mr. Paul's supporters from around the country are flooding the Maine GOP office with complaints and accusations that Mr. Paul's defeat was rigged. "Does anyone have pics of the 'snowstorm' in Washington County," queried one skeptic on a Facebook page for Maine Paul supporters.

The bitter dispute in a remote corner of a sparsely populated state—the county is so far east that it boasts of being the first place in the U.S. where the rising sun shines—is just the latest weird twist in the GOP nomination journey that has seen Mr. Romney's momentum sapped by caucus upsets including an Iowa recount that stripped him of a first-place finish.

The results of the Maine straw poll will have no direct impact on the allocation of the state's 24 delegates, but the caucuses were seen as a potential game changer for Mr. Romney, who was coming off a trio of defeats last week, and for Mr. Paul, who was hoping for a first-place finish for the first time in the nominating contest.

The Maine imbroglio began Friday when forecasts of a snowstorm led Mr. Gardner to survey county caucus leaders and decide to postpone their Saturday meeting rather than force voters to risk hazardous travel across the sprawling, rural county. He didn't realize that delay would mean their votes would be rendered meaningless under state party rules requiring results to be reported by Saturday evening, in time for a nationally televised announcement of the winner.

Mr. Paul claims he might have narrowed the 194-vote gap if Washington County's votes had been cast and counted. His campaign voiced incredulity at the claim that the county's Republicans couldn't have braved a snowstorm that dropped six inches to vote.

"This is MAINE we're talking about," John Tate, Mr. Paul's campaign manager, said in a statement. "A prediction of 3-4 inches—that turned into nothing more than a dusting—was enough for a local GOP official to postpone the caucuses just so the results wouldn't be reported tonight."

The National Weather Service said that about 5.5 inches of snow fell in the East Machias area over the weekend. Mr. Tate claimed the storm was so tame that even a Girl Scout event in the county went ahead as planned—but neither the campaign nor a spokesman for the Maine Girl Scouts could identify such an event.

Mr. Gardner, a Romney supporter, flatly denied any political motive, and underscored that road conditions were so hazardous that a significant traffic accident occurred just a tenth of a mile from the caucus site. Mr. Gardner acknowledged he had been taking a "lot of guff" but defended the snow cancellation.

"We are Mainers, which means we are not stupid," he said. "We know enough not to be out in the snow unless we have to be."

He filed a request Monday for the state GOP to count the results of next Saturday's caucus—even though it could undercut the victory margin for his own preferred candidate.

It is unclear whether the county would, in fact, tip the balance, but it seems a long shot in light of the last presidential election. Back in 2008, only 118 people participated in the Washington County Republican caucus—and only eight voted for Mr. Paul. Sen. John McCain won the county, and Mr. Romney came in second.

Asked the prospects for a Paul victory next Saturday. Mr. Gardner said it was "improbable" but unpredictable because Mr. Paul's supporters may be energized to turn out in large numbers.

"It is all a matter of turnout," he said. "Here in one of the poorest counties in the nation, the easternmost county in the nation, it's a showdown at the O.K. Corral."

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