The McCain campaign counts mainly on north Maine.
The McCain campaign announced on Thursday that they'll be pulling out of Michigan, a battleground state that his campaign had hoped to contest, and instead shifting resources to previously red states, such as Virginia and Ohio, that will now be necessary for McCain to hold in order to win 270 electoral votes. This move left Minnesota, where the McCain campaign has been outspending Obama 3-1 and Pennsylvania as the only "blue" states where their campaign was still competing. Until, that is, they announced a new battleground.
"Some staff an other resources will be moved to Maine, where we will be opening up an aggressive front in Maine, where numbers have been strong and where they split their electoral college vote, providing an opportunity," said McCain-Palin Political Director Mike Duhaine during a conference call held to explain the new map.
Josh Tardy, chair of the Maine McCain campaign and leader of the state House Republicans, dialed the commitment back a bit the next day when he announced that new staff might not actually be coming to Maine, but that the campaign would be making a significant media buy. He also left open the possibility of a visit by the Republican candidate or his running mate.
What does this new focus mean for Maine and for the presidential campaign? Here are a few thoughts:
McCain is playing defense.
By pulling out of states that have gone Democratic in the past, and focusing on the states Bush won in 2004, McCain has committed himself to a strategy where he has to almost run the table on Indiana, North Carolina, Missouri, Ohio, Florida, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Iowa and New Hampshire, all states that Bush won and are now battlegrounds, in order to claim victory. A new front in Maine makes sense with this strategy. The McCain camp's hope is that by securing a vote here, they can prevent the tie that might result from Obama winning a few of the smaller states on this list, a possibility I wrote about a few weeks ago. They no longer believe that a win in Pennsylvania or Minnesota or Michigan is likely to put them over the top. It's the same reason Obama is competing so hard for the single electoral vote in Omaha, Nebraska.
Obama will invest here too.
Don't expect the Obama-Biden campaign to cede the field to McCain. In fact, Obama has already been spending here, and has worked with the state Democratic party to set up 32 campaign offices across the state. Compare that to the 49 joint offices in Virginia, a battleground state with six times the population of Maine. Obama has also been running radio ads in Maine already and it's likely that if McCain goes on TV, and polls show it making a difference, Obama will follow. The Obama campaign may not be outpacing the McCain-RNC fundraising juggernaut anymore, but Maine is cheap to compete in, especially the Bangor and Presque Isle media markets.
Get ready for negative ads.
A study of McCain's recent campaign spending shows that 100% of ther advertising dollars are going to attacks against Obama, and the campaign has stated that they'll be focusing on Obama's "questionable associations" for the rest of the campaign in order to "change the subject" from the economy.
While Maine political commentator Christian Potholm says he wants to see positive ads with endorsements from Maine's senators (which, by the way, might be a great way to spend some RNC coordinated money), his son's firm, which designed the 2004 Swift Boat ads, has been working for McCain since the primary. Things don't look good for a positive campaign.
Susan Collins has said that she hopes the McCain campaign's efforts will draw more Maine voters to the polls. Academic studies, however, have found that negative ads actually suppress turnout, and with McCain opting against a well-funded ground game, don't expect more voters at the polls on election day because of McCain's strategy.
Get ready for a visit by Palin.
In each of the last three general presidential elections, one or more of the presidential or vice-presidential candidates have visited Maine's second district. This latest increase in attention makes a trip this year by candidates from one or both parties almost inevitable. Several Republican strategists have said that despite her tarnished national brand, Sarah Palin will still have some cachet here in Maine where her moose hunting and snowmobile riding could connect with voters on a cultural level. A visit by Palin might might also energize the small base of social conservatives in the district.
This is still all about the second district.
"I'd put every effort into trying to snake away the second," Karl Rove recently told a group of Maine Republicans. "With all due respect to everybody who lives in the first, you oughta figure out what weekends you can spend up north."
Despite the recent insistence from Jim Barnett, McCain's New England campaign manager, that the whole state is in play, McCain likely won't be wasting time and energy on the solidly Democratic first district. The second is where he can pick up a vote and where the media is cheapest, and it's absolutely within the realm of possibility that the area could swing to the Republicans. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the registration numbers, but unenrolled voters outnumber both, and recent elections have had close results. Kerry took the district by six points in 2004, and Al Gore carried it by only two in 2000.
Don't trust the polls.
Very few polling firms take a large enough sample of the second district to get a firm idea of where things stand. The last poll that publicly broke the numbers down geographically found equal support in both northern and southern Maine, an unlikely occurrence. Nate Silver, a statistician who uses a formula including regional and national results, demographics and pollster accuracy in order to approximate the actual support for each candidate in a state or district calculates Obama's lead in the district as 8.3%, but obviously McCain's campaign has seen some numbers that make them think it will be closer.