Mitt Romney chats with a supporter at a caucus in Portland, Maine. (Robert F. Bukaty )
This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.
Reversing his embarrassing string of setbacks earlier this week when he lost Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri to Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney eked out a narrow win in the straw poll tied to Maine's multiday caucuses Saturday, defeating Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who was the only other candidate to actively campaign in Maine.
The peculiar Republican contest in Maine -- where caucusing began in some towns in late January and will continue in others after Saturday's presidential preference poll -- was viewed as something of an afterthought because many Republicans expected Romney to have the Republican nomination all but sewn up. Instead, the contest took on new importance as a test of the former Massachusetts governor's organizational strength after his losses Tuesday night.
The Maine contest was a battle mainly between Romney, who won with 39% in the snapshot poll Saturday, and Paul, who placed second with 36%. With limited resources and a series of far-flung contests ahead in late February and early March, Santorum and Newt Gingrich did not actively campaign in Maine, though both campaigns sent surrogates to speak on their behalf at caucus sites around the state.
Romney did not hold an election night party, a sign of just how close the campaign believed the race was. The results of the straw poll were nonbinding – a sideshow to the state's process of allocating its delegates.
The results were a blow to Paul, who has grounded his presidential campaign in caucus states but has yet to win a contest. His operatives believed that Maine's libertarian streak, its antipathy toward government and the increasing strength of tea-party-affiliated voters in the Republican Party would be a good fit for his views.
Paul began courting Maine voters long before his opponents -- setting up a ground organization last fall and making multiple visits to the state while his opponents focused their attention on more delegate-rich states like Florida. He and Romney campaigned at the same caucus site in York County on Saturday morning.
Romney's two-day visit to the state, which included a town-hall-style meeting in Portland on Friday night, was his first trip of the 2012 cycle.
For the record, 4:38 p.m. Feb. 11: A previous version of this post said that Ron Paul had won 26%. Paul won 36%. It also said that Mitt Romney had won the Maine caucuses. Romney won the straw poll tied to the caucuses.