Lobsterdammerung: An Interview with the GOP Chairman of the Maine Caucuses’s Missing County

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 21: Lobsters are grilled in preperation for lunch at the ‘Salon Prive’ luxury and supercar event held at the Hurlingham Club on July 21, 2010 in London, England. The annual three day Salon Privé offers the opportunity to view the most exotic modern and vintage super cars in the world. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

On Saturday, Maine’s Republican Party held a press conference to announce that Mitt Romney had bested Ron Paul in the 2012 precinct caucuses. It was breaking news, another victory in the Romney comeback “narrative” that started with CPAC’s straw poll.

It might have been wrong.

According to the latest tally, which lacks results from 98 of 600 precincts, Romney only leads Paul by 194 votes. Paul, who didn’t concede on election night, is still talking up an upset; Paul supporters are organizing on Facebook to GOTV for the final caucuses. The biggest batch of votes will come from Washington County, which has around 6000 Republican voters, and which opted to delay its vote for fear of snow and safety risks. I talked to Washington County GOP Chairman Chris Gardner about the whole mess.

Slate: This was a close race, but not, apparently, so close that Washington County could swing it. There were only around 130 votes there in the 2008 caucuses. What should we expect this time?

Gardner: Based upon the fact that this year’s caucuses ginned up a lot of interest, we were anticipating there would be north of 200 people there. Now that we’ve gotten the attention, the amount of attendees we’ll see is anyone’s guess. I’d be shocked if we saw lower turnouts as a result of this.

Slate: So who made the call to cancel – sorry, postpone – the caucuses?

Gardner: This is the part that has been lost in the narrative. In Maine, we do not caucus by county. We caucus by town. My involvement was in the Edmunds township caucus; that’s the only caucus I could postpone, and I did so. We all made our individual calls, and I informed the state party of the delay. I’ve heard people saying things like “oh, you can’t handle snow?” Well, in Washington County we chose to put safety over politics. We’ve got enough common horse sense to not go outside and risk ourselves in the snow.

Slate: And why did they announce the result without your votes?

Gardner: Well, I don’t know the answer to that. We called them. I spoke to them on behalf of the towns in Washington County. I said: This is what we’re facing, a localized storm. We called the state party, and they said to me, You’re doing the right thing. We were not informed we would not be part of the total. Now, of course we weren’t going to be part of the election night press conference. We knew that But I at least expected them to say, This is incomplete, this isn’t the final total.

Slate: Given that the vote we’re talking about is non-binding, why is it so vital to set this up?

Gardner: If it was important enough for the rest of the state, it’s important for us. We’re gonna release our vote totals to the media. They’re quite capable of doing math. Whether state party wants to or not, we’re going to count our votes. The state party can go ahead and stand by its old vote totals. It’ll be standing by totals that are wrong.

Slate: This is the third of five caucuses that’s had some sort of crisis that delayed or changed vote counts. Should we keep having these things?

Gardner: I’m a big fan of primaries. I hope that either one of two things happens. Either the state party learns a lot from this and we never suffer through it again, or the state party pushes to get a primary set up in Maine. Each vote should count. Maybe that should be done through a primary system.