State Bush thought he'd won -- Maine -- may yet go for Reagan
One more sign that the presidential campaign of Ronald Reagan is waxing and that of George Bush is waning may come from the Maine Republican state convention this weekend.
Scine early last November, when former UN Ambassador Bush swamped Mr. Reagan nearly 5 to 1 in a straw vote at a statewide party caucus, the Pine Tree State has been considered a Bush stronghold.
In recent weeks, however, the gap appears to have narrowed, perhaps considerably. Some neutral observers on the scene suggest the two candidates may be running neck and neck for support at the gathering. All 21 Maine delegates and 21 alternates to the July Republican convention will be chosen at the April 18-19 conclave.
Underscoring the importance of the convention to his candidacy, Mr. Bush has put a trip to address the convention on his campaign schedule.
Considerably less certain is whether Mr. Reagan will travel to Bangor, Maine, to address the nearly 4,200 GOP delegates as well.
Unlike Mr. Bush, who was in Maine several times last fall and earlier this year, the California conservative has not campaigned in the state as he did in neighboring New Hampshire prior to its Feb. 26 presidential primary.
US Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois, the third remaining contender for the Republican nomination, also has been invited to attend the convention. He is expected to pass it up.
But Anderson backers are hoping their candidate will change his mind and attend. They concede, however, that this does not appear likely.
"We shold have been a lot better organized," says Portland attorney James Goggin, a leading backer of the Illinois congressman. He explains that although the state convention delegates committed to his candidate may be comparatively few, it is far from a lost cause. A mailing in behalf of Mr. Anderson has been sent to every delegate.
While the lion's share of the Maine national convention delegates and alternates are generally expected to go to either Mr. Bush or Mr. Reagan, Anderson supporters are hoping to win at least a few seats, and there seems almost certain to be some "uncommitted" delegates chosen.
Several of Maine's best-known Republicans, including state party chairman Hattie Bickmoore and US Rep. Olympis Snow, have declined to take sides among presidential candidates. Others, like US Sen. William Cohen, a former booster of Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. of Tennessee, have adopted a neutral stance since their candidate withdrew.
Unlike Senator Cohen and Representative Snow, the state's third GOP member of Congress -- Rep. David Emery -- long since has declared his support for Mr. Anderson.
Mr. Bush, who has the backing of state Senate president Joseph Sewall, could benefit from being viewed as more of a political middle-of-the-roader than his two opponents.
Four years ago, Maine Republicans chose 15 delegates for President Ford, a moderate, and five for conservative challenger Reagan.
Portland attorney Howard Dana Jr., chairman of the Reagan campaign, discounts the validity of the straw vote 4 1/2 months ago, in which his candidate did not actively compete.
Maine Reagan-for-President forces are counting heavily on winning most of the state convention delegates who were committed to former Texas Gov. John B. Connally, who has dropped from the race and thrown his support to Mr. Reagan.
Mr. Reagan's absence from the Maine convention "should not be construed as a writing off of [Maine's] Republican delegates," Mr. Dana says. He feels "sure we'll win at least 11 of the delegates to Detroit."
Bush boosters decline to speculate as to how many delegates they will come away with, but claim their candidate will be the big winner. They anticipate gaining the support of most Maine Republicans who had leaned toward Senator Baker.