10: 40 a.m.: It doesn't get much attention, but Maine has one of the most unusual political cultures in the nation. It has two of the most liberal Republican senators, in Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins. For eight years, from 1995 to 2003, it had a governor who was from neither major party (independent Angus King, for those of you keeping score at home). In 2010, it nearly elected another when independent Eliot Cutler fell just 9,000 votes short of Paul LePage (LePage won the governorship with just 38 percent of the vote). And on Saturday, the state wraps up its two-and-a-half-month Republican presidential caucus.
Yes, you read that right: state law in Maine mandates an election season longer than a D.C. winter. Parties can try to push local authorities to hold their caucuses at certain times, but they can't require it. The Maine Democratic Party arranged to have all of its caucuses on a single day, February 26 (it helps that their pick was a foregone conclusion), but the Republicans couldn't pull that off. They tried to wrangle everyone into having their caucuses between February 4 and 11, but even that was too much authority for many of the state's GOP voters: a quarter of municipalities scheduled their caucuses outside that week-long window.
But that's not the end of the weirdness. The Maine caucuses, like the Minnesota caucuses earlier this week, are nonbinding. Attendees won't actually select delegates until the state nominating convention; those delegates will in turn choose the state's 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention in August, who will give their votes to one candidate or another. So when the Maine GOP hosts an event Saturday evening to announce caucus results, what will be revealed is the results of a straw poll of attendees. That's generally considered a good rough estimate of how the delegates will be apportioned, since the same folks who choose the delegates vote in the straw poll. But since they aren't bound to support anyone, it's impossible to know for sure.
Although Maine has more delegates than its neighbor New Hampshire, the number of caucusgoers is typically minuscule -- in 2008, fewer than 6,000 Republicans turned out. Still, the contest could be consequential for Mitt Romney and Ron Paul (Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum haven't even bothered to campaign there). Romney made a quick jaunt to the state Friday evening after his appearance at CPAC. Despite the small number of delegates and scant attention given to Maine, a loss there would be his fourth straight stumble, and further emphasize doubts about his presumed front-runner status. In 2008, the former Massachusetts governor won 52 percent of the vote in the caucus.
Paul, meanwhile, is in the hunt for his first win of the primary campaign. He insists that his strategy is to slowly and steadily accrue delegates, but his supporters -- including his son Rand -- have said that he needs a victory somewhere, and have pegged their hopes on Maine. The Texan is the only candidate to have spent significant time there, and the conventional wisdom is that the state's independent bent gives him an opening.
Image: Brian Snyder / Reuters