GOP caucuses and a special election make me suspect Maine’s going to have a pretty, pretty interesting year

OK, I’ve only lived in Maine since 1997, making me one always From Away.

But this has got to be the wildest week in Maine politics I can recall.

Sure, there have been some odd moments, including some of the, shall we say, interesting comments from candidate and then Governor Paul LePage. And I remember when the removal of the labor mural went viral and became the quirky Maine story talked about by the national media.

But the GOP caucus situation is getting stranger and stranger. As I’ve blogged about it and this paper (and others) have done a fine job covering it, I won’t repeat the facts as we know them.

[See these articles and blog posts on the Maine GOP caucuses:        Waldo County Results Mostly Missing  Disenfranchise?   More bases for complaints  Pressure mounting for reconsideration ]

However, it is just plain weird for a state that has such a long-standing commitment to clean politics to have the whole array we’ve witnessed — missing votes from the GOP tally in some places and saying postponed caucuses won’t have the chance to have their votes added to the count and the mess at the Portland caucus involving the voided election of delegates to the state convention.

And in every case, the mistakes seem to benefit one candidate — Mitt Romney.

Having paid attention to caucuses over the years, I can accept that these are inherently messy and mistakes happen.

Still, you have to wonder, especially since the Maine Republican Party and the Governor seem so laid back about all of it.

Those who have watched Governor LePage know that he’s not exactly shy. But he’s being very quiet right now. And little is being heard from the GOP leadership.

Don’t they want to clean up what’s becoming a bigger and bigger political mess, clearly upsetting some Republicans and plenty of non-Republicans, too? Don’t they realize that leaving out a county and a half from the tally (plus the other strange elements) will cause a backlash against the Republican powers-that-be?

And the story increasingly is getting national attention because Romney is struggling nationally and he just squeaked through in the Maine straw polls and the oddities all contribute to Romney’s Maine margin. Ron Paul’s supporters and the supporters of other candidates and plenty of other folks are troubled by this Maine caucus mess.

And now Maine’s had a special election to fill the seat in Senate District 20, with a big upset. The Democrat, who had received 32% in a three-person field in 2010 has won.

[See reports:  Bangor Daily News  – Dirigo Blue – Steve Mistler ]

Special elections are quirky affairs and can be over-interpreted. However, they are NOT unimportant.

For one, they can be decent predictors of future trends.  The only person to correctly predict the 1948 presidential race, to say Truman would win over Dewey, was Louis Bean, who spent most of his career in the Department of Agriculture. (I wrote about this in my 2012 book, “Pathways to Polling.”) One of the main elements of Bean’s predictive model was the swing in special elections — the change from vote percentages from the election before the special election to the special election.

In SD 20, the Republican swing was ten points, since the 2010 Republican vote share was 56%, but only 46% in the special election. That is a big swing.

Of course, there are all sorts of particular aspects of the race that may have mattered, so, as I said, special elections can be over-interpreted.

But there are other political implications.

1. With the budget votes in the Maine Legislature to come, some Republicans will have this outcome in the back of their minds. They may be less inclined to support a party-line budget and more inclined to support a bipartisan budget.

2. This special election comes at a time when some people are making up their minds about whether to run for the legislature. It could encourage some to run and prompt others not to bother.

You know, when it comes to Maine politics, I think 2012 is going to be a pretty, pretty interesting year.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.