As Maine goes . . .

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - Cal Thomas

IAUGUSTA, Maine.

t is only par­tially true that in pres­i­den­tial elec­tions “as Maine goes, so goes the na­tion.” The term emerged in the 19th cen­tury be­cause at the time Maine held its elec­tions for statewide and con­gres­sional of­fices in Septem­ber, not Novem­ber.

The prox­im­ity of the Septem­ber-Novem­ber vot­ing made Maine a bell­wether for fore­cast­ing how the rest of the coun­try would vote. In mod­ern elec­tions, held with the rest of the coun­try in Novem­ber, Maine chose Richard Nixon over John F. Kennedy in 1960; Hu­bert Humphrey over Nixon in 1968 (it went for Nixon in 1972), Ger­ald Ford over Jimmy Carter in 1976, Al Gore and John Kerry over Ge­orge W. Bush in 2000 and 2004, re­spec­tively.

Maine’s two sen­a­tors are “mod­er­ate” Repub­li­cans and the state has a Demo­cratic gov­er­nor. This is no con­ser­va­tive bas­tion.

At the Repub­li­can state con­ven­tion the first week­end in May, at which I was in­vited to speak, the crowd, more than 2,000 strong, was en­thu­si­as­tic but rep­re­sented a small por­tion of Maine’s elec­torate. Ac­cord­ing to Repub­li­can state chair­man Mark El­lis, self­i­den­ti­fied Repub­li­cans make up the small­est num­ber of Maine’s vot­ers (28 per­cent, he says) with about 32 per­cent reg­is­tered Democrats, and 34 per­cent In­de­pen­dents. Five per­cent be­long to the Green Party.

Mr. El­lis told me the Repub­li­can Party is in “dire straits” in Maine, “as it is in all of the North­east.” Too many see the party “cav­ing in” to lib­eral de­mands, he said. Party ac­tivists be­lieve “we should stand firm.” Mr. El­lis says the di­vi­sion be­tween so­cial and eco­nomic con­ser­va­tives has be­come wider and only Sen. John McCain can hold it to­gether with his ap­peal to moder­ates.

One of those moder­ates is Sen. Susan Collins, who is run­ning for a third term. In her speech she got off sev­eral crowd-pleas­ing lines. Re­fer­ring to Barack Obama’s prob­lems with his for­mer pas­tor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Miss Collins said, “When Repub­li­cans dis­tance them­selves from their pas­tor, all it means is we’re sit­ting in a pew in the back of the church.” In a ref­er­ence to Sen. Hil­lary Clin­ton’s claim of com­ing un­der fire while visit­ing Bos­nia as first lady, Miss Collins said, “He [John McCain] does not need to em­bel­lish his record with tales of be­ing un­der fire. He has been un­der fire.”

In an in­ter­view, I asked Miss Collins the main rea­son Repub­li­cans lost their con­gres­sional ma­jor­ity and are strug­gling to re­gain a po­lit­i­cal foothold in what looks like a big year for Democrats. She said, “There was an ex­plo­sion of and in­crease in spend­ing.” In an im­plied crit­i­cism of Pres­i­dent Bush, she said, “The pres­i­dent has taken a hard line against spend­ing only in the last year.”

De­spite some polling that does not fa­vor Repub­li­cans, Miss Collins pre­dicts Mr. Mc- Cain will be the next pres­i­dent. She thinks it would help him if he spoke more about the sac­ri­fices he’s made for the coun­try. Asked whom she would like to see as Mr. McCain’s vice pres­i­den­tial pick, Miss Collins said that some­one with ex­ec­u­tive ex­pe­ri­ence in busi­ness “would be help­ful.”

“Mitt Rom­ney?” I asked. Mr. Rom­ney re­ceived a warm re­cep­tion from del­e­gates when he gave the key­note ad­dress on May 2. Miss Collins said she “likes” Mr. Rom­ney. Af­ter the ran­cor be­tween Mr. Rom­ney and Mr. McCain dur­ing the pri­mary cam­paign, how­ever, it might take a dose of prag­ma­tism rem­i­nis­cent of the Kennedy-John­son shot­gun po­lit­i­cal wed­ding to make that hap­pen.

Ralph Peter­son is a mid­dle school prin­ci­pal in Rich­mond, Maine, and a con­ven­tion del­e­gate. He agrees that “McCain needs a solid con­ser­va­tive run­ning mate” and men­tions Mr. Rom­ney as a good choice. “Peo­ple of con­ser­va­tive be­liefs want our be­liefs de­fended,” said Mr. Peter­son, who thinks Mr. Rom­ney would de­fend them.

If the state Repub­li­can plat­form is any in­di­ca­tion, it ap­pears the party is mov­ing right­ward. A large ma­jor­ity of del­e­gates de­feated amend­ments that would have de­fined mar­riage as some­thing other than a con­tract be­tween a man and a wo­man and also de­feated one that would have lib­er­al­ized the party’s pro­life po­si­tion. This re­flected the con­ven­tion‘s dom­i­na­tion by con­ser­va­tive ac­tivists rather than a sign of a change in the think­ing of a ma­jor­ity of Maine res­i­dents, who con­sis­tently elect cen­ter-left politi­cians to state and na­tional of­fice.

It takes a lot of stamina to be a con­ser­va­tive Repub­li­can in Maine — some­thing like en­dur­ing win­ter up here. Many at the state con­ven­tion wished that as the na­tion has gone for con­ser­va­tives in sev­eral re­cent elec­tions, so would go Maine. But that may take a lit­tle longer than the al­ways-late ar­rival of spring.

Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist.

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