PORTLAND, Maine – Mitt Romney narrowly won Maine’s Republican caucuses, state party officials announced Saturday, providing his campaign with a much-needed boost after three straight losses earlier last week. But the former Massachusetts governor won just a plurality of the Maine vote, suggesting he still has work to do to unite GOP voters behind his candidacy.
At a gathering in Portland, state Republican Chairman Charlie Webster announced Romney had won with 2,190 votes, or 39 percent, compared to 1,996 – about 36 percent – for Ron Paul, the only other candidate to aggressively compete in the state.
The totals reflected about 84 percent of the state’s precincts. Webster insisted that any caucus results that come in after Saturday wouldn’t be counted no matter how close the vote.
“Some caucuses decided not to participate in this poll and will caucus after this announcement,” Webster said. “Their results will not be factored in. The absent votes will not be factored into this announcement after the fact.”
Romney’s win, combined with his victory in the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Committee conference in Washington hours earlier, helped slow an embarrassing skid that began Tuesday when he lost contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado to former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum. The twin triumphs dampened the perception – for now – that conservatives were unwilling to support Romney.
Romney’s campaign has demonstrated skill and flexibility in winning a big state like Florida and eking out a victory in a low-turnout contest like Maine, where organization and voter contact are essential. Out of Maine’s 258,000 registered Republicans, nearly 5,600 cast ballots in the weeklong contest.
But questions about Romney’s durability as the party’s presumed front-runner persist. Fully 61 percent of Maine voters selected a candidate other than Romney in a state practically in his backyard. And Romney’s showing was down considerably from 2008, when he won 51 percent of the vote.
Maine’s caucuses began Feb. 4 and continued throughout the week. Several communities elected to hold their caucuses at a later date.
Speaking to supporters in Portland, Paul expressed disappointment that only a portion of the state’s caucuses had counted toward the total.
“I wish all the caucuses had met today,” Paul said, adding, “It’s almost like we could call it a tie.”
Romney was attending a fundraiser in California late Saturday, after visiting caucus sites in Maine earlier in the day, where he pressed voters for their backing.
Romney won 11 delegates in Maine and Paul won 10, according to an analysis by the Associated Press. Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich were shut out.