Who do pundits think will win the Maine caucuses?

voteBefore anyone shows up to caucus this weekend in Maine, pundits will have made their predictions. There hasn’t been any recent public polling, so they’re using all sorts of evidence and their judgment.

As always, it’s up to the people who show up who determine what really happens.

But what do pundits think and why? And could there be an upset?

Saturday, March 5 are the Republican caucuses.

Two GOP candidates came to Maine this week — Donald Trump, who appeared with Gov. LePage, and Texas Senator Ted Cruz. You wouldn’t think candidates would bother coming if they didn’t think they could win. Yet pundits have heavily favored Trump.

National pundit Nate Silver is not terribly sure what will happen but thinks LePage’s endorsement matters.

Maine has an extremely low-turnout caucus and is idiosyncratic as it gets, having elected politicians ranging from a conventionally moderate Republican, Sen. Susan Collins, to an independent, Sen. Angus King, to the tea party-aligned governor, Paul LePage. Meanwhile, Ron Paul nearly won the caucuses there in 2012. So the outcome is anyone’s guess, but Trump — who has LePage’s endorsement — probably counts as the favorite by default, with John Kasich (who was second in both Vermont and New Hampshire) also worth watching. [source]

In Maine, Lance Dutson’s Whip Count Insider’s survey overwhelmingly predicted a Trump win. His panel has ten Republicans and ten Democrats. (I am one of them.)

All but one Republican said Trump, with one Republican picking Kasich. Every Democrat thought Trump would win.

Here are comments from the panelists:

Trump’s momentum, combined with a Maine GOP electorate that loves plain-spoken agitators, will deliver an easy victory to the front-runner.

Cruz will show strong; close, but no stogie.

But it will not be a strong Trump win. Rubio and Kasich will do well.

Maine is not immune from the forces at play in the broader national electorate. The faithful of both parties are looking for a non-traditional candidate willing to shake-up the Washington establishment. With Trump’s overall momentum and LePage’s endorsement this week, a Trump victory looks all but inevitable.

I based my prediction of a Trump win on the governor’s endorsement as well as national trends and Trump’s wins in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

However, I’m now wondering if Cruz might mount an upset.

There could be a consolidation of the anti-Trump vote with Cruz picking up support from Maine’s evangelical and libertarian communities. Maine is not the sort of state in which Cruz has tended to do well, but clearly his campaign thought a strong showing or win was possible or they would not have scheduled a campaign appearance.

Sunday, March 6 are the Democratic caucuses.

After visiting Portland this summer, Senator Bernie Sanders made a return appearance this week. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has not held a recent event in Maine.

The Whip Count panel heavily favored Sanders in the Maine caucuses.

As Dutson reports:

Both Democrat and Republican insiders believe that Bernie Sanders will win on Sunday, but with less of a landslide than Trump. 90% of our respondents on the Democratic side see a Sanders victory and 70% of the panelists on the Republican side felt the Vermont senator would win. Only 20% of the combined group saw a path for Hilary Clinton.

Commenters from this panel said:

Bernie wins by the same type of margins we saw in NH and MN.

Maine is a perfect state for Sanders. A white state with a caucus. Plus Clinton lost it last time by 20 points.

Clinton’s momentum from Super Tuesday might excite her base on Sunday, but a very white, rural state close to VT should be a win for Sanders.

I’m seeing a lot of young passion and excitement in Maine around Bernie Sanders. He’s brought some of the “establishment” Democrats to his team, and attracted many new young voters to his movement. Reminds me of the Ron Paul revolution in the Maine GOP a few years ago.

A majority of Maine Democrats will go for Clinton in a close race. While Sanders has significant support in Maine, Clinton has locked down most of the party’s establishment and Clinton’s campaign efforts in the state appear to be well-planned and organized.

I primarily based my prediction of a Sanders win on the demographics of the state and its use of a caucus.

As I wrote in my last column, Clinton has “issue and relationship advantages . . with the black community.” That fueled her big Super Tuesday wins and give her a big boost in the upcoming March primaries in big states like Michigan, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and Florida. Maine, of course, does not have a large black community. Sanders does best in states that lack diverse populations.

Moreover, the Sanders campaign, from what I can tell, started its field operation earlier in Maine, as it opened campaign offices earlier.

It’s possible there could be an upset in the Democratic caucuses. One of the panelists for the Whip Count points to a narrow Clinton win due to a well-organized effort by people long involved in the party.

One interesting aspect is there are about three times as many absentee ballots than in the 2008 caucuses. At this point, it’s unclear who that favors. Moreover, demographics are often destiny, but not always.

Without public polling, it’s hard to know what’s happening with either party’s contests. So another way to decide if there’s been an upset is to see how they compare to benchmarks for attaining delegates.

Fivethirtyeight tracks how candidates are doing state by state in terms of how many delegates they need to win the nomination.

A candidate can do better than the other or others — what most would call winning — but still underperform his or her benchmarks. As such, not all wins are quality wins.

On the Republican side, nationally Trump is doing better than his targets, having accumulated 114% of his benchmarks. In contrast, Cruz has hit 61% and Rubio just 46%.

Of Maine’s 23 national convention delegates, 538’s targets are 9 for Trump (39%), 9 (39%) for Cruz and 10 (43%) for Rubio. Keep those benchmarks in mind when the results come in.

On the Democratic side, nationally Clinton is doing better than her targets, having already earned 115% of the delegates from primaries and caucuses (in other words, without taking superdelegates into account).

538’s Democratic targets for Maine is for Sanders to win 15 of the caucus-awarded delegates (60%) and Clinton to win 10 (40%). (These are delegates to the Democratic National Convention, not to the state convention.) I’ll be watching to see if Sanders hits that 60% delegate benchmark.

Pundits analyze and predict but voters decide.

For more information on how to participate, how the Maine caucuses work, how delegates are awarded, and when results will be announced, follow this link.

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.