This week, Ron Paul is likely to win more delegates to the 2012 GOP convention than either Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum. In fact, he’s likely to win more delegates than Gingrich and Santorum combined.
“Hold it”, you’re saying, “How can that be? Rep. Paul’s polling in single digits in Florida. He’s going to finish behind Gingrich and Santorum, as well as Mitt Romney, in Tuesday’s Florida primary. How can that translate into beating any of his rivals at all?”
We’ll tell you how – because he’s not winning those delegates in Florida. He’s winning, or will probably win, at least a few delegates in Maine.
Paul took a quick two-day swing through Maine over the weekend, in case you didn’t notice. He met with GOP Gov. Paul LePage. He spoke to big crowds throughout the state – in Lewiston, apparently, event organizers had to expand his conference room to handle the people who showed up.
He even landed the coveted L.L. Bean endorsement – that's Linda Lorraine Bean, heiress of the L.L. Bean empire and a lobster roll entrepreneur in her own right. She endorsed Paul on Saturday from her restaurant in the retail outlet mecca of Freeport.
Asked why she wasn’t supporting fellow New Englander Mitt Romney, Ms. Bean said “I’ve always been for Ron Paul”, according to a statement posted on Paul’s campaign web site.
As we’ve previously reported, unnoticed by most of the DC-based political establishment, the Maine caucuses actually began this weekend. So Paul wasn’t in Maine just because he likes riding around in salt-crusted Subarus.
Most Maine towns will hold their caucuses during the state GOP’s preferred window of February 4-11. But “most” doesn’t mean “all”. Lincoln, Lowell, Burlington, Chester, Enfield, Winn, and Howland held their joint caucus on Saturday. Millinocket’s was on Sunday. And so forth.
Each Maine caucus is holding a presidential preference straw poll, the state-wide results of which will be announced February 11. This poll is non-binding. But each caucus is also starting the process of selecting delegates to the state and national GOP conventions. The Paul campaign is making a big push to get its people involved in politics at this level. It is highly likely that some Paul supporters won delegate slots over the weekend – news reports indicated that the Paul crowd was making a big pitch at some caucus sites.
Asked whether he was going to win Maine’s caucuses, Paul told Crowley, “We did pretty well three years ago [in Maine] and we weren’t nearly as well organized. And Romney’s been popular up there, but less so right now. So I would say that we have a very good chance.”
Now Maine has only 24 delegates total, so it’s not like the Pine Tree State strategy is a springboard that will somersault Paul into the White House. Florida has 50 delegates, almost twice as many, despite the fact that it’s been penalized by the national GOP for advancing its primary.
But Florida is winner-take-all. That means, if Gingrich and Santorum finish behind Romney, as polls currently indicate they will, neither of them will win any delegates. Nada. Zip.
So Paul only had to score one more delegate in Maine this weekend to outperform them, convention-wise.Given that Maine Republicans tend to be more libertarian than socially conservative, and given that Paul actually campaigned there, we think that's a likely occurrence.
Of course, the comparison is not entirely fair. At this stage in the race, the higher priority for both Gingrich and Santorum is maintaining a sense of momentum and a flow of donation dollars. Both could accomplish that by performing well in Florida, whether they win any delegates or not.
Paul, in contrast, already has a core of committed supporters and enough money to keep going to the convention in Tampa. He’s not trying to win the presidency as much as he is trying to maximize his ability to spread his libertarian message.