Maine caucus shatters turnout record

Despite snowfall, Democrats in Maine more than doubled the state’s previous turnout record for presidential caucuses Sunday as Sen. Barack Obama (Ill.) defeated Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for the majority of the state’s delegates.

With 97 percent of caucus precincts reporting, 46,000 Maine Democrats had participated in the nominating contest compared with 17,000 in 2004, the state’s previous record, according to the Maine Democratic Party.

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The high turnout in Maine follows a record-breaking turnout for Democrats in the Washington caucus Saturday, and Nebraska caucuses that saw participants overflowing election sites and caucusing outside.

Arden Manning, executive director of the Maine Democratic Party, said turnout was exceptionally high across the state.

“We did have high turnout in populated areas,” Manning told The Hill. “But rural areas had some of the highest turnout we’ve ever seen.”

Manning cited 800 caucus participants in rural Washington County, and turnouts of 20 or 30 in rural areas with only a few hundred registered voters.

“Here in Maine that’s really substantial,” Manning said.

He suggested interest from Independents, coupled with Maine’s significance in the primary process this year, as a reason for the record-setting participation. Independents in Maine must register as Democrats to caucus, but can re-register after caucusing.

In Maine’s Feb. 8 caucus in 2004, the search for a Democratic nominee was essentially over though Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D) had not yet dropped out, Manning told The Hill. Later states have taken on added significance in 2008 as Obama and Clinton continue to battle for the party’s presidential nomination.