After an ugly week, Mitt Romney ended things on a high note on Saturday after winning the Maine caucus, barely edging by Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), who had heavily banked on this contest for momentum in the primaries.
Paul remains the only GOP candidate left in the primary campaign to not have yet one a race. Maine has a deep libertarian leaning and the Texas congressman had campaigned heavily in the state.
Romney won Maine with 39% of the vote to Paul’s 36%.
Fellow GOP candidates Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich largely ignored Maine, instead focusing on battleground states for Super Tuesday on March 6.
Santorum came in third in the Maine caucus with 18% of the vote.
Romney, the former governor of nearby Massachusetts, was desperate to get back some momentum in the GOP contest, and this win will provide him just that. Paul, on the other hand, looks like the weakest of all four remaining GOP candidates. Paul will has failed to capitalize on his grassroots libertarian support and make a national push. If we were to gauge who the next candidate to drop out of the race would be, Paul would be a heavy favorite.
Earlier this week, Paul finished in second place in Minnesota behind surging Santorum with 27.1% of the vote. Speaking to his supporters in Minnesota, Paul said he expected to do well in Maine.
The loss in Maine has to be disheartening for Paul and his campaign. After staking a lot on the Northeastern state, one has to wonder where Paul will go from here. Though he has a significant and fervent grassroots following, Paul hasn’t been able to make a significant impact in this GOP campaign. Paul has ruled out a third party run as a libertarian candidate.
The Maine victory comes on the same day that Romney got a significant boost at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), the “Woodstock for conservatives” and a marquee event for conservative politicians, bloggers, and activists.
Romney won the CPAC straw poll with 38% of the votes. Santorum was second with 31%, Gingrich was third with 15%, and Paul was fourth with 12% — yet another troubling sign for the Texas congressman’s campaign.
Romney was reeling this week after losing primary and caucus contests in Minnesota, Missouri, and Colorado to Santorum on Tuesday. He was also heavily criticized for a poor performance at CPAC, in which Romney stumbled in a Friday speech when he referred to himself as “severely conservative.”
That set off a wave of questions, in which conservative bloggers and politicians wondered what the heck “severely conservative” actually meant.
Gingrich used the misstep as a prime opportunity to attack the GOP front-runner, saying, “Some things are too funny to comment on.”
At CPAC, former Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin also criticized Romney for not energizing deep conservative and Tea Party voters.
Is Romney a natural fit for the Republican nomination? Many Republicans seem to be conflicted with that question, evidenced in his continued struggle to lock down the GOP candidacy.
Saturday’s Maine and CPAC votes, though, should help reenergize the Romney camp.
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