Looking to snap a string of losses that have raised questions about his inevitability as the Republican Party's eventual nominee, Mitt Romney is hoping for a win Saturday evening when Republican Party officials announce the results of a straw poll tied to Maine's multi-day caucuses.
The state should be friendly territory for Romney, who served as governor of nearby Massachusetts and won a resounding victory in neighboring New Hampshire's January primary. But after losses in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, he is facing a strong challenge in Maine from Texas Rep. Ron Paul -- who has found favor among Maine's many libertarian and tea-party affiliated voters.
"We think we have the votes for a win," said Paul's campaign chairman Jesse Benton, who argued that the congressman's message has been particularly well suited for Maine's independent-minded voters. "People in Maine, they just really want the government off their back.... It really is a wonderful state for the limited government, 'leave us alone,' 'let us run our state the way we want to' kind of attitude."
Paul is the only one of the remaining four Republican contenders who has yet to win a contest this cycle. Many believe Maine may offer him his best shot because of the fervency of his supporters, low turnout at caucuses and the fact that his well-organized team has been able to take advantage of person-to-person campaigning in a small state while other candidates have focused their attention elsewhere. (Saturday's results are nonbinding but a symbolic step toward the state's allocation of delegates later this year).
Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have hardly spent any time campaigning in Maine. And unlike New Hampshire, Romney and Paul have not made a play on the television airwaves, in part because just 24 delegates are at stake.
"Doing paid TV or radio in a small caucus of activists is not a very efficient way" of reaching potential supporters, Benton said. "You want to send targeted direct mail to the people who are likely to caucus, and you can reach people by phone – we've been burning up the phones."
In recent days, Paul and Romney have both stepped up their efforts to court Maine voters. After holding a town hall meeting in Portland on Friday night, Romney announced two additional stops at caucuses in Sanford and Portland on Saturday. His son Tagg Romney spoke on his behalf as caucusing got underway last weekend in Maine.
Paul will visit the same Sanford caucus site as Romney on Saturday, as well as two others in Lewiston and New Gloucester. So far, Paul is the only candidate scheduled to hold a caucus night party in Maine. Republican party officials plan to announce the results at 6:20 p.m. EST.