Why so ineffective? The Maine caucus mess and the not-Mitts

While the Maine GOP caucus mess is being well reported in the state, it seems to be working its way into the national political media stream — slowly.

At the time of this writing, CNN has a new story on its Political Ticker that is woefully incomplete, focusing on just one county, Washington County, and the issue of whether their postponed caucus can have its votes included.

Yet for days it’s been known that the problems go beyond a single county and the story continues to develop. Caucuses have also not yet been held in 14 towns in Hancock County, which have about 11,000 residents and their counts may not be included in the tally.

There are calls for recounts. Votes were incomplete in “Waldo County, where the caucus results posted on the state party’s website don’t come close to matching those compiled by the county. While the state GOP says Paul got 37 votes to Romney’s 30, Waldo County’s spreadsheet shows Paul winning, 71-50,” as well as in Waterville.

Controversy over the omission of local Republican caucus results from statewide tallies drew a larger-than-usual crowd to the regular meeting of Waldo County Republicans Feb. 14, a meeting which ended with a strong call to action. Source

And what was this call to action? A censure for the chair of the state GOP. That’s rather unusual, even dramatic, and is itself a vivid demonstration of dysfunction.

Now, one can understand why this is important locally. The Republican party itself is divided and the rest of Maine looks on at what seems at best a disorganized and incompetent process.

But, for the national press, one might think this would be more of a story, simply because the results presented to the press corps were questionable, the process flawed, and the timing so helpful to the embattled Mitt Romney.

While the national media can take some of the blame for its lack of attention — in part due to its lassitude and in part arising from its studied disinterest in Ron Paul’s candidacy — so can candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich.

No, neither Gingrich nor Santorum had a shot at winning the Maine caucuses. However, their inattention to the Maine caucus mess must count at a wasted opportunity for reaping some political benefit vis a vis Romney while standing up for fairness and democratic participation.  It further demonstrates that their campaigns lack the strong organization and focus that tend to go with effective, winning candidacies.

There’s more evidence of their lack of focus. Neither Santorum nor Gingrich will be on the Virginia ballot and so have no chance of winning those delegates, nor gaining momentum and media attention from a win there.

Santorum has such a minimal organization that he lacks staff to organize events, doesn’t do polling and is missing some key equipment. Gingrich lacks discipline.

Although all that might seem refreshing — and both candidates have done well in the polls one time or another — it makes them less able to recognize and act on an opportunity.

And the fact that, despite all this, Romney has struggled at certain points in this campaign, demonstrates his own weaknesses that organization and money can buffet, but not shield.

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Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.