WASHINGTON — Kathy Howell of Jonesport said she expects Washington County Republicans to turn out in droves today to vote in what has become a nationally prominent presidential straw poll.

The spotlight will be on the rural county Down East and its caucus meeting at Washington Academy in East Machias, the final act in the political drama over whether Mitt Romney won Maine’s GOP caucuses fair and square or Ron Paul was robbed by an improper and error-filled vote count.

“People are driven now to get out there and have their vote counted,” said Howell, executive director of the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce.

The Maine Republican Party has been under siege for a week, since it declared Romney the winner of its nonbinding caucuses, edging Ron Paul by 194 votes out of 5,585 cast.

The win helped Romney change a troubling trend for his campaign, which lost in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri on Feb. 7, and denied Paul his first 2012 campaign win.

The Paul campaign immediately protested, arguing that the party hadn’t counted Washington County, which postponed its caucuses because of a snowstorm. Paul’s campaign said the county could have put the libertarian-leaning congressman from Texas over the top in Maine.

GOP officials said a recount Friday corrected vote counting errors and omissions in places including Waterville and some communities in Waldo County.

The party said it found about 200 more votes in the recount, and Romney’s lead increased to 239 votes, with only Washington County left to vote.

Chris Gardner, Washington County’s GOP chairman, said a good caucus turnout normally might by 200 people. On Friday, he had no idea just how many of the county’s 6,000 Republicans might show up after a week’s worth of conjuncture over whether his county could give Paul a big enough margin to overtake Romney.

Gardner, a Romney supporter, has fought for the state party to include his county’s vote in its official caucus tally.

“All the campaigns are doing their best to turn people out (for today’s caucuses). It is going to be a tremendous event. At the end of the day, do I think all 6,000 Republicans in Washington County are going to come out? No. Do I anticipate it being north of 200? Yes.”

Gardner is clear on one point: Maine’s presidential straw poll won’t be complete or accurate unless Washington County is included.

The state GOP’s executive committee has recommended adding the county’s votes to the official count, but left the final decision to the full state committee, which is scheduled to meet March 10.

Party Chairman Charlie Webster and the rest of the Maine GOP have been embroiled in the controversy. There have been calls for Webster’s censure, and party leaders around the state have been getting calls from angry members ever since the announcement of Romney’s win on Feb. 11.

Webster initially said the straw poll was a “snapshot in time” and a political beauty contest, and wouldn’t be altered to include Washington County’s results because only caucuses held in the period from Feb. 4-11 would be counted.

Webster said Friday that, however the vote turns out today in Washington County, “it will be up to (full state committee) to decide whether they are added to the final count.”

The Paul and Romney campaigns did not respond to requests for comment Friday.

The Paul campaign said earlier this week that it isn’t focused any longer on whether it won the straw poll. Instead, the campaign contends that it will win the majority of Maine’s 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention when delegates are chosen at the state party convention in May.

In all, 1,144 delegates are needed to win the GOP presidential nomination.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: MaineTodayDC


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