East Machias, Maine – Ron Paul won the controversial Washington County caucus by a 2-1 margin, but it does not appear that the results will be enough to give the libertarian Republican his first ever statewide win as a presidential candidate. Results from other Maine caucuses are still being computed, but as of this moment Mitt Romney is poised to confirm his prematurely declared victory in Maine by somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 votes.
Paul finished first in Washington County with 167 votes, followed by 86 for Romney, 59 for Rick Santorum, and a paltry five for Newt Gingrich. Two votes went to unnamed candidates.
The Washington caucus was originally scheduled to take place with all the other Maine caucuses last weekend, but was postponed due to inclement weather. After the results for the rest of the state were in, it became unclear whether the Maine Republican Party would even include Washington County. The county chairman, Chris Gardner, had made it clear that his county would be counted. "Today is about assuring our voices our heard," County Chairman Chris Gardner said. "As you can see we are a county that needs to be heard."
The controversy surrounding whether the Washington County votes would be tallied became a focal point for the Paul campaign. All week pro-Paul websites were leveling accusations of voter fraud. The Daily Paul, a popular Paul activist website, implored rural Maine voters to turn out. Paul supporters were wearing stickers that said "You Will Count ME," a play on the abbreviation for Maine.
A person close to the Paul campaign, speaking on background, told me that efforts in Washington County were largely driven by the grassroots. "I would say it's been 70% grassroots, 30% campaign here," the Paul campaigner said. "I am very confident we will win the delegates here. This stuff, it's a beauty contest."
Maine has 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa. Three of those are already spoken for by state party officials, while the remaining 21 will be awarded at the state convention in May. "We've got a large number of delegates, a large number of delegate chairs," said Paul Madore, chairman of Paul's Maine campaign. "We're optimistic that they will be able to find delegates for Ron Paul."
Madore, dressed more like a college professor than a party boss in his corduroy jacket and tie, was pleased with the result of the Washington County caucus even though it probably won't be enough to push Paul into first place. "We're optimistic, but this is a victory for us here," he said. "Washington County is solidly behind Congressman Paul and this is what we need to remember."
The uproar over how the caucuses were handled will lead to some changes in the hierarchy of the state Republican Party. Paul sympathizers will be there to make sure that happens, Madore says. "Ron Paul supporters have to understand what happens in a caucus, what takes place in a county committee, and how things are run in order to keep the movement going in the right direction," he said.
Mitt Romney's campaign, meanwhile, was pleased that Maine remains in the victory column, and expressed eagerness to compete for delegates in the next stages. "We take each state very seriously and we go in with no preconceived notions," said Greg Gallivan, a Romney campaign aide in Maine. "We go into each state and then we need to perform well in each state. We don't like to preordain by any means."
Before the caucus began Romney supporter and RNC committee member Ron Kaufman said that the results of the caucus did not matter much, but it would still be good to win. "It's a beauty contest, there are no delegates awarded," Kaufman said.
When asked about the large Ron Paul presence at the caucus he said, "God Bless 'em. The enemy is at 1600 Pennsylvania avenue, it's not other folks trying to get other Republicans elected."