Robert F. Bukaty/AP
Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, kicks balloons from the stage after speaking to supporters following his loss in the Maine caucus to Mitt Romney, Saturday in Portland, Maine.

Did Mitt Romney steal Maine caucuses from Ron Paul?

The caucus for Washington County, Maine was cancelled Saturday due to the threat of inclement weather. Ron Paul supporters believe that with those votes, Paul could have won the state contest.

Did the GOP establishment steal the Maine caucuses away from Ron Paul? That’s what some Paul supporters are grumbling this morning. They suspect that another Republican campaign conspired with the Maine state GOP to suppress Representative Paul’s vote.

That other Republican campaign is Mitt Romney's, though the Paul campaign is not saying so directly. But who else is the establishment backing at the moment? If you think it's Rick Santorum or Newt Gingrich, we've got a moon base we'd like to sell you. It's cheap – and statehood's impending!

Here’s the Paul camp’s thinking: On Saturday, Maine GOP chairman Charlie Webster announced that Mr. Romney had won the statewide caucus presidential preference poll with 2,190 votes, or 39 percent. Paul, the only other candidate to seriously contest the Pine Tree state, came in second with 1,996 votes, or 36 percent.

Romney claimed victory, but Paul did not concede. His supporters point out that the preference poll is not yet finished. Among other things, the caucus for Washington County, scheduled for Saturday, was cancelled due to the threat of inclement weather. The conspiracy theory holds that “snow” was just an excuse, and that the real reason they pulled the shades down was fear of a Paul victory.

Washington County’s votes would have put Paul over the top, claimed Paul’s campaign manager John Tate in an e-mail to supporters.

“The caucus was delayed until next week just so the votes wouldn’t be reported by the national media,” charged Mr. Tate.

Who are the conspirators here, according to the Paul team? The “GOP establishment and their pals in the national media, [who] will do anything to silence our message of liberty,” said Tate.

Hmmm. Perhaps we didn’t get that message from our overlord Bret Baier. But we do have this to say about the alleged caucus theft:

First, these people have never been to Washington County in the winter. It’s the far northeastern part of Maine, so far up that Portland might as well be Miami. We have been there in January, and it was so cold ice formed on the car windows as we drove. The inside of the car windows.

Also, the roads in Washington County are narrow and slippery at best. Read the Bangor Daily News – the two-car head-on collision is a staple of winter coverage. We’re not going to question anybody’s weather-related call up there.

That said, it’s also unlikely that Washington County’s votes would have thrown the preference poll Paul’s way. The invaluable polling analyst Nate Silver at the New York Times FiveThirtyEight blog points out that in 2008 fewer people participated in the Washington County GOP caucus than the current gap between Romney and Paul. So even if Paul won 100 percent of that turnout, he would have lost.

Of course, given the spotlight now shining on the county, it’s possible Paul supporters will pile in when the caucus is actually held, inflating the numbers. We’ll have to wait and see.

But the real bottom line is this: The presidential preference poll held at Maine caucuses does not matter. It has no influence on the allocation of Maine’s 24 delegates to the GOP convention in Tampa, Fla. 

What did matter at Maine’s caucuses was the second phase of the action – selection of delegates to the state GOP convention, which in turn will allocate those precious 24 national votes. And the Paul camp may have dominated this process.

The Paul camp planned this – we’ve called it their secret ninja caucus strategy.  While they’re complaining about the preference poll, they’re also telling their supporters that their delegate strategy means they may win the Pine Tree State in the end.

“We are confident that we will control the Maine delegation for the convention in August,” said Paul’s national campaign chairman Jesse Benton in a statement Sunday.

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