After the room clears

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  March 21, 2007

Somebody really smart wrote this, four years ago: “Maine’s influence in determining the next occupant of the White House will be somewhere between minimal and undetectable.”

I confess I was correct. The 2004 presidential nominations were pretty much wrapped up before this state held its caucuses, which attracted less national media attention than black-fly mating season. Although, nobody notified Democratic US representative Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, who continued to barnstorm across Maine as if it were the only state he needed to win. Which, oddly enough, was his actual campaign strategy.

Kucinich finished a distant third in the caucuses, behind eventual nominee John Kerry and perpetual annoyance Howard Dean. He did manage to beat John Edwards, Joe Lieberman, and Wesley Clark, although, in fairness, the first two didn’t campaign in Maine and the third made one brief appearance before discovering he was unelectable.

Which brings us to 2008, when Maine will be even more insignificant. For proof, consider that one of the first candidates to visit, Iowa governor Tom Vilsack, withdrew from the race before anybody could accuse him of being in it. Oh yeah, and Kucinich is back. He told the Portland Press Herald, “I think this year is going to be an opportunity for us to put together the kind of organization in Maine that will not only help me in Maine, but will also have an impact in New Hampshire as well.”

This time, he’s got a two-state strategy.

Next year, Maine Democrats will hold their caucuses on February 10. That’s shortly after nearly two dozen other states make their selections, so it’s likely the party’s nominee will already have been anointed. As former Maine resident Chris Lehane told the Associated Press, “Iowa will effectively identify who is in and who is out, while New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina and perhaps others will in a very, very short time period designate a winner.”

That’s us: “perhaps others.”

Lehane has been wrong before (he worked for Kerry and Al Gore), so let’s hear from somebody who’s occasionally right. Ken Mehlman, George W. Bush’s 2004 campaign manager, thinks the condensed schedule could allow some seeming losers to redeem themselves. Mehlman told Time magazine, “On each side, there will be two or three candidates who will have the resources to survive a key loss early on.”

That’s good news for Maine, right? After Kucinich gets creamed in Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Alabama, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Delaware, Missouri, Arizona, New Jersey, North Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, California, Colorado, Kansas, Tennessee, and Louisiana, he can get his campaign back on track by finishing third in Maine.

Probably not. Any Democrats still alive after those early contests will be concentrating on Virginia (February 12), Wisconsin (February 19), and a bunch of states that make their choices on March 4 (including delegate-rich New York, Texas, Massachusetts, and Ohio). No time to visit backwaters.

Then, there are the Republicans. For the past two decades, Maine’s GOP has effectively eliminated itself from the national decision-making process by spreading its caucuses over two and a half months, thereby rendering the results impossible to figure out.

There’s a reason for this scheduling oddity. It makes it harder for wackos to gain control of the party.

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