There’s a certain what’s-it-all-about mystique to the political caucus, with all its sitting and listening and gathering in the corners of gyms, churches and town halls.

With interest high this time around in particular, “There’s been a lot of dusting off and bringing people up to speed,” said Mark Ellis, the GOP’s state chair.

When it comes to the caucus, think “town meeting,” suggests UMF Professor Jim Melcher. It’s that same sort of open, public forum, and can take up to two hours. Sometimes there are pleas for money, deft negotiations.

“It’s very, very public. If you’re over with the McCain corner, everyone’s going to see that,” Melcher said. “You can’t hide at a caucus.”

Melcher, Ellis and Maine Democratic Party Executive Director Arden Manning offered advice on what to expect for the caucus novice. This, the first year since 1952 that there’s no incumbent president or veep in the race, might be a good year to give it a whirl.

For Democrats

When: Feb. 10

Where: Check mainedems.org for time and location near you

• Enter room, sign name. If already enrolled in another party – too late. You can’t switch now. If unenrolled, you can sign up for the party on caucus day.

• Settle in for speeches. Candidates can show up in person and make a pitch for themselves, others can rally for them.

• Stand, stretch legs – now go to the corner! Support Obama? Go stand in the corner with other people who support Obama, and so on.

• Do the math. Each caucus site has a certain number of delegates to the state convention to divvy up. Say there’s 100 people at the caucus site and 10 delegates dedicated to it. Are half the people in one corner, half in another? Perfect. Each of those two candidates get five delegates. Are corners divvied 22, 1, 30 and 47? That’s not going to work.

• Time to start lobbying and beef up your corner. Keep at it until there’s a clean way to split delegates.

“It’s almost like, ‘Red Rover, Red Rover let Mitt come over,'” quipped Melcher.

• Math works? Fantastic. Decide who to send to the state convention while you’re still in your corner. Exit said room.

• Can’t make it that day? Party allows absentee voting until Feb. 6. Call 622-6233 or go to their Web site for a ballot.

For Republicans

When: Feb. 1, 2, 3 (only one date per location)

Where: Check mainegop.com for time and location near you

• Enter room, sign name. If already enrolled in another party – too late. You can’t switch now. If unenrolled, you can sign up for the party on caucus day.

• Settle in for speeches. Candidates can show up in person and make a pitch for themselves, others can rally for them.

• Fill out a paper political preference ballot, a show of who you support so far. These results will be shared with the media.

• Since it’s being held before Super Tuesday, the caucus results are nonbinding, so there’s no corner-gathering here. Listen to friends and neighbors as they ask for your vote to send them as delegates to the state convention. (“My name is Joe Smith and I support Giuliani. Vote for me!”) Vote accordingly. One caveat: Because it’s nonbinding, Joe doesn’t have to vote for Giuliani at the state convention even if he says he will.

• Keep going until all the delegates are picked. Exit said room.

• Sorry, no absentee voting allowed.


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