Straw poll in Maine?

AUGUSTA, Maine — Looking to stir up excitement and lure presidential hopefuls to the state, leaders of the Maine Democratic Party are thinking about holding a presidential straw poll in early fall.

"We are very seriously considering it," Democratic Party Chairman Ben Dudley said Monday.

"If we do it," he added, a straw poll would probably be conducted in late September or October.

Scheduled to hold the party's actual delegate-awarding presidential caucuses next year on Feb. 10, state party officials fear the outcome of the race for the nomination may already be decided by that time.

Feb. 5 is shaping up as a megaprimary — as many as 25 states will make their choices that day.

A fall '07 straw poll, at least, could bring candidates to Maine to address the concerns of voters in the state, according to Dudley. A downside, he conceded, would be if those candidates chose not to come.

"The pro for us is it's a great opportunity to build excitement and organization for the 2008 election. ... It's also a way for us to get political candidates to come to Maine. ... That is our primary goal," Dudley said.

"The difficulty will be attracting them to an event when no delegates are truly at stake."

In 1983, Maine Democrats held a high-profile presidential straw poll that for months in advance drew the party's top-tier candidates on forays through the state.

After much exertion and expense, former Vice President Walter Mondale prevailed in the October poll. California's Alan Cranston finished a creditable second. The back-of-the-pack included Fritz Hollings of South Carolina and John Glenn of Ohio.

Five months later, however, Gary Hart of Colorado, who had been the first in and first out of the straw poll, won a convincing victory in the state caucuses, taking 51 percent to Mondale's 44 percent.

Heading into the next election cycle, Democratic Party Chairman Paul Kirk outlined an eight-point code of conduct that called for a pledge by state parties not to conduct straw polls of candidate preference.

Republicans have also experimented with presidential straw polls in Maine.

In advance of the 1980 election, favorite Howard Baker of Tennessee lost to George H.W. Bush before both watched Ronald Reagan, who did not participate, walk off with the Republican nomination and the presidency.

In November 1995, Phil Gramm of Texas won the most votes in a Maine Republican Party straw poll despite strong bids by two Senate colleagues, Dick Lugar of Indiana and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania. Gramm had little troubling overcoming whatever built-in advantage Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, who did not attend, had from his support within the state's GOP establishment.

The Dole campaign played down the results, saying the straw poll was a terrific fundraiser for the Maine GOP because people paid to vote.

Maine's Republican caucuses next year are scheduled for Feb. 1, 2 and 3.