Texas Sen. Ted Cruz’s visit to the University of Maine in Orono on Friday makes him the last presidential candidate to visit Maine in advance of Saturday’s Republican caucuses.
A few hours after his Orono campaign rally, he’s scheduled to touch down in Florida.
Cruz’s Pine Tree State visit comes just a day after Republican rival and front-runner Donald Trump drew crowds in Portland and two days after Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders rallied supporters in Maine’s biggest city.
With only a handful of delegates up for grabs in Maine, why are candidates stopping by, and does it matter — even if their visits last just a few hours?
Both the Democratic and Republican races are still hotly contested, and a good showing this weekend in Maine can generate momentum for campaigns ahead of the March 15 primaries, when several larger states, including Florida and Ohio, will be at stake.
“At this point in the process, the candidates are trying to win as many states as possible to build momentum ahead of the March 15 primaries,” Anthony Corrado, a political scientist at Colby College, said. “Winning delegates anywhere is important to them.”
After poor showings in New Hampshire, South Carolina and Nevada, Cruz picked up primary wins Tuesday in Alaska, Oklahoma and his home state of Texas, gaining 209 delegates to Trump’s 237, according to The New York Times.
A win in Maine offers Cruz — who trails Trump by nearly 100 delegates — a chance, if a small one, to slow down the Trump juggernaut. And he needs to demonstrate this weekend — when Democrats and Republicans in Kansas, Nebraska, Louisiana and Puerto Rico also make their presidential choices — that he can slow down Trump as he tries to stake out his claim as the Trump alternative ahead of the Republican National Convention, according to Mark Brewer, a political scientist at the University of Maine.
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, also needs a good turnout on Sunday when Democrats caucus if he hopes to close in on former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who commands a nearly two-to-one lead so far, Brewer said.
“The fact that Maine matters at this point in the primary cycle shows the races aren’t over,” Brewer said.
So, will these rallies matter? Toby McGrath, a political consultant who worked as Barack Obama’s campaign director in Maine during his 2008 and 2012 races, said the candidates’ brief layovers in Maine will land them on the front pages of newspapers and generate enthusiasm among their supporters to turn out this weekend.
But McGrath said that the majority Maine caucus-goers have already made up their minds, and these last-minute rallies may not make a huge difference.
“It’s always helpful to show up and show that you care about the state you’re going to, but I don’t know how much it’s going to move the needle,” McGrath said.