Mitt Romney pulled out a narrow win in the caucuses in Maine today, reinforcing his front-runner status after suffering a trio of defeats Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri.
Romney took 39 percent of the vote while Ron Paul claimed 36 percent. Rick Santorum took 18 percent and Newt Gingrich 6 percent.
Maine was viewed as backyard territory for Romney. The caucus victory not only ends his losing streak, but permits him to ride news of a win for several weeks until the next contests, in Arizona and Michigan, which are held February 28.
Romney’s win is a blow for Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman who had staked his campaign on winning small, lower-cost caucus states, like Maine. After taking last place in Colorado’s caucuses and second in Minnesota’s caucuses this week. Maine was viewed as Paul’s last best chance at gaining momentum.
The win came on a day when Romney received more good news at the Conservative Political Action, the gathering of conservative activists where he won the straw poll. Romney pulled in 38 percent of the vote while Santorum took 31 percent, Gingrich, 15 percent and Paul, 12 percent.
The Maine caucuses, for months, were little-noticed in the line-up of February contests. They are traditionally sparsely attended and feature a non-binding straw poll. Delegates are chosen later at the state convention.
Both Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum ignored the contest.
Ron Paul, though, trained his attention on Maine early, seeing opportunity in a caucus state where votes tend to come from highly motivated voters, providing an advantage to organized campaigns like his. Paul made visits across the state, opened an office in a strip mall in Falmouth, a bedroom community of Portland, and sought to recruit potential voters.
Paul had hoped a win here would permit him to gain delegates and ultimately give him a voice at the Republican National Convention in Tampa and put his libertarian ideas on the table for consideration.
Still, Paul faced significant hurdles. Mitt Romney won the caucuses here in 2008, with 52 percent of the vote and this go-round Romney had the support of some 75 percent of elected Republicans, according to the state Republican Party (though senators Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe did not endorse any candidate). And like the Paul campaign, Romney workers put in calls to potential voters, encouraging them to caucus.
Romney hadn’t announced intentions of visiting Maine until after his string of losses last week. At the last minute, he worked in two visits to Maine caucus sites and held a town hall style meeting on Friday night.
‘‘I want to ask for your help today,’’ the former Massachusetts governor told Portland caucus-goers in a school auditorium. ‘‘If I get your vote, it’ll help me become our nominee. If I become our nominee, I’m going to beat this guy and bring America back.’’
Maine Republican Party officials had hoped to increase the influence of their caucuses this year by making voting more concentrated.
Caucuses in Maine must be held by March 20, a timeline that in the past led to a staggered and lengthy process with results announced after most other states had concluded voting. This year, the party urged local party committees to caucus between Feb. 4 and today, providing two Saturdays on which voters could caucus.