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Could Ron Paul Still Win Maine?

Ron Paul’s campaign is claiming that it could still win the presidential preference poll in the Maine caucus because of a county that postponed its vote and will hold its caucus next Saturday, Feb. 18.

On Saturday, the Maine Republican Party declared Mitt Romney the winner of the presidential preference vote, which he led by 194 ballots based on the caucuses that have been held so far.

State Republicans said they considered the results of the straw poll final. However, Washington County, in the easternmost part of the state, postponed its caucus after a snowstorm was forecast there. The Washington County G.O.P. Chair, Chris Gardner, said his county would conduct the straw poll at its caucuses and will report the results to the state.

All if this will be moot unless Mr. Paul is able to make up 194 votes in the county.

Based on how the county voted in 2008, that seems unlikely. Just 113 votes total were cast in the county in 2008, and only 8 of those were for Mr. Paul. John McCain, instead, won the plurality.

In addition, Mr. Romney narrowly won the two counties, Hancock and Penobscot, that border Washington County to the west and which are probably the best demographic match for it — although Mr. Paul won sparsely-populated Aroostook County, which borders it to the north, where he took 81 votes to Mr. Romney’s 26.

However, Washington County might theoretically have some untapped potential for Mr. Paul. It is rural and relatively poor — demographics that tend to suit him more than Mr. Romney. And it is relatively conservative, having split its vote about evenly between Barack Obama and Mr. McCain in 2008 when Mr. Obama won Maine as a whole fairly easily.

What such an outcome would require is for Mr. Paul’s campaign to make a concerted effort to turn out any supporters it has in the area. There are 6,907 registered Republicans in Washington County, and another 8,247 unaffiliated registered voters, who are eligible to participate by changing their registration to Republican at the caucus site. Unregistered voters, for that matter, are also free to participate provided that they register at the caucus site.

Imagine, for instance, that voters turned out in the county at a rate comparable the Iowa caucuses, where Mr. Paul had a strong turnout operation. In Iowa, 122,255 Republicans participated in the caucuses as compared to a total of 644,220 voters who were registered as Republican prior to caucus night.

Were turnout in Washington County to occur at the Iowa rate, it would produce about 1,300 participants at the caucuses, enough to swing the outcome if Mr. Paul received about 15 percent more of their votes than Mr. Romney.

A more likely scenario, perhaps, is that Mr. Paul would work to turn out his supporters while the other campaigns would not. Mr. Romney’s campaign, in particular, might seem to give credence to the notion that the straw poll was an unresolved issue if it made extra effort to turn out voters there.

If Mr. Paul were somehow to secure the 194-vote margin, that would create a messy scenario for the Maine G.O.P. It would either need to backtrack on its previous statements that the straw poll results are final, or might risk appearing as though it was disenfranchising voters.

Such a result would also create problems of interpretation. Under this scenario, turnout would be much higher in Washington County than in other parts of Maine — and it would be higher in part because the results from the rest of the state were already known and Mr. Paul had doubled-down in the county as a result.

Put differently, it’s possible that Mr. Paul would receive enough votes there to swing the outcome, but would not have done so if the caucus had taken place as originally scheduled.

A handful of Maine towns outside of Washington County have also not yet held caucuses. In those cases, however, the caucuses were scheduled for after Feb. 11 all along. Only 45 votes were cast in these towns in 2008, so any impact is likely to be small.

The results of the presidential preference poll are nonbinding and serve mostly for vanity — delegates are selected through a separate vote at the caucus sites. Although this is also true in most other Republican caucus states, Maine’s delegate selection process is especially cumbersome and can potentially reward candidates whose supporters are more enthusiastic and who sit through the entire process, which can be hours long.

Mr. Paul’s campaign has predicted that it will win the most delegates from Maine regardless of the result of the straw poll.

Nate Silver founded and was the editor in chief of FiveThirtyEight.