AUGUSTA – Gov. John Baldacci said Monday he called Barack Obama to congratulate him after his Maine caucus victory, and pledged party unity after the race against Hillary Rodham Clinton for the party’s presidential nomination works its way to a conclusion.

“The important thing is that our party stands united at the end of this process,” said Baldacci, who has endorsed Clinton but reserves the right to switch his support as a national delegate if and when the time is right.

Baldacci said he congratulated Obama on the campaign he ran in Maine and wished the Illinois senator well as the race continues.

Maine voters from both parties exercised their independence, shunting aside the endorsements of their parties’ higher-ups.

On Sunday, the Democrats awarded Obama with 59 percent of the state convention delegates over Hillary Rodham Clinton’s 40 percent, which translates into 15 national delegates for the Illinois senator to nine for the former first lady.

The final delegate counts will change as “superdelegates” – the party’s electoral elite and honored elders – make or revise their choices. Baldacci is among those 10 superdelegates, as is Maine Democratic Chairman John Knutson, who made good on his promise to endorse the winner of the state’s caucuses.

The vote of support for Obama came despite endorsements of Clinton by the top two elected Democrats in state government – Baldacci and Senate President Beth Edmonds of Freeport – in addition to numerous other lawmakers.

A week earlier, Republicans also caucusing in overwhelming if not record-breaking numbers repudiated the endorsement of John McCain by their party’s top two elected officials in the state – U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins – as well as former Gov. John McKernan.

Mitt Romney won with 52 percent of the GOP members’ vote in what was essentially a straw poll because it was nonbinding. Romney has since suspended his campaign, leaving McCain as the front-runner.

It’s not unusual for Mainers to bypass the anointed candidates and go for outsiders, as the Democrats did in 1992 when they gave California’s Jerry Brown a first-place finish in the presidential caucuses.

In the 1992 general election, independent Ross Perot finished ahead of the sitting president, George H.W. Bush. Four years earlier, Jesse Jackson finished second in the Democratic caucuses behind eventual nominee Michael Dukakis.

Bowdoin College political science professor Christian Potholm said he doesn’t see much connection between endorsements and the subsequent votes – at least this time around.

“Unless you put those endorsements on TV and saturate the airwaves, most voters don’t even know who endorsed who,” Potholm said.

In the run-up to the GOP caucuses, Potholm believes Romney had a lot of support both at the grass roots level and also from a wing of the party associated with Peter Cianchette, the 2002 candidate for governor.

In Obama’s victory, Potholm said he was struck by such a huge victory in the state with the highest percentage of whites, and that Obama did so well in communities with sizable Franco-American populations.

“We won’t know until Ohio but Obama may be breaking out into blue collar, working-class people in a way he hasn’t before,” said Potholm, referring to that state’s March 4 primary.

Baldacci also said endorsements have limited impact on voters.

“The people are most comfortable making their own endorsements,” the governor said. “People are independent in Maine.”

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