BANGOR, Me. — Sen. Phil Gramm of Texas cruised to victory in the Maine Republican Party's straw poll Saturday, trouncing absent Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole of Kansas and two other Senate colleagues who personally campaigned for votes.
State party officials said Gramm's total of 602 votes gave him more than 42% of the ballots cast. Sen. Richard G. Lugar of Indiana was second with 303 votes, or 21%.
Dole, whose partisans insisted that they had done little organizing in advance, got 144 votes, or 10%.
The vote was a "strong indication of how well our effort is being received by Republican activists," Gramm said, crediting his volunteer staff in Maine and "the overwhelming appeal of our message of less government and more freedom" for the victory.
The Dole campaign played down the results, saying the straw poll was a terrific fund-raiser for the Maine GOP because people paid to vote, but a "ridiculous" measure of support. "Nothing could better illustrate the difference between the Dole and Gramm strategies," Dole spokesman Nelson Warfield said in a statement. "While they're campaigning for straw poll votes in Maine, we're campaigning for real votes in Iowa."
Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who urged delegates to send a message that mainstream Republicans were regaining control of the GOP, was fourth with 118 votes, about 8%.
Dole's absence and retired Gen. Colin L. Powell's unknown intentions prompted much discussion among delegates during the day.
A top Dole ally in Maine, Republican National Committee member Ken Cole, shrugged off the significance of the affair.
"Not many minds have been changed," Cole said, pronouncing himself satisfied that Dole maintained "a strong enough, deep enough base of support."
But Gramm supporters exulted in the results. "He did real well in talking down to earth," said Doug Mayo, one of numerous collegiate Republicans who turned out for the Texan.
Amid the signs and stickers for announced candidates, a smattering of delegates sported "Powell for President" buttons. Gordon Lane of Houlton said he had a supply of 450 to hand out.
"I think he's the man who can bring the party together and expand the base," Lane said. "Too many of the candidates are staking out too small a base."
Organizers said more than 1,900 registered Republicans from around the state paid $15 each to express their preference, but the final tally showed that fewer than 1,500 voted. Gramm, Lugar and Specter all mounted aggressive drives for support.
Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove), who also spoke, took 84 votes. Among the other participants, Morry Taylor received 73 votes; Charles Collins, 29 votes, and Tom Shellenberg, two votes.
Besides Dole, non-participants who received support included Patrick J. Buchanan, with 41 votes; Malcolm S. (Steve) Forbes Jr. with nine; Alan Keyes with seven, and Lamar Alexander with six.
Gramm took aim at President Clinton, who "didn't grow up in the same America as I did," and vowed to work toward "less government and more freedom."
"I was a foot soldier in the Reagan revolution. . . . I want to finish the Reagan revolution," Gramm declared.
He said he looked forward to defeating Clinton as a way to "end this politics of class warfare and envy in America once and for all." Saying voters size up candidates to see who is "strong enough, committed enough and has a clear enough vision," Gramm suggested he knew the limits of compromise.
"We're not going to change America by cutting deals with Democrats in Washington, D.C.," he said. "I will cut no deals with America's future."
Iowa's February caucuses kick off the actual process of selecting a Republican nominee, followed by the nation's first primary election in New Hampshire.
Maine voters then get their first real say as part of the New England-wide Yankee Day primary on March 5.