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Romney Wins Easily in Maine GOP Caucus Vote


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Kris Conover
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« on: February 03, 2008, 03:19:54 am »

CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Feb. 2, 2008 – 8:31 p.m.
Romney Wins Easily in Maine GOP Caucus Vote
By Jessica Benton Cooney and Bob Benenson, CQ Staff
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney returned to the win column Saturday by easily taking the Republican presidential nominating contest in Maine — the last voting event before “Super Tuesday” this coming week.

Romney led by a wide margin in a candidate preference vote taken at caucuses held around the state on Friday and Saturday, with a few locations scheduled to hold their caucuses on Sunday. The Maine Republican Party early Saturday night declared Romney the winner.

Romney had 52 percent of vote, with 69 percent of precincts reporting as of 6:45 p.m. eastern time Saturday.

Arizona Sen. John McCain — who is now widely regarded as the front-runner for the Republican nomination after winning key primaries in South Carolina on Jan. 19 and Florida on Jan. 26 — did not seriously compete in the Maine caucuses. As a result, he ended up in a battle for second place with Texas Rep. Ron Paul , the libertarian outsider candidate who appears to have drawn by far his biggest vote share in any of the eight Republican presidential voting events so far.

McCain had 21 percent of the preference vote to 19 percent for Paul. This contrasted sharply with McCain’s performance in 2000, when Maine Republicans held a primary rather than caucuses, and McCain took 44 percent to 51 percent for winner and eventual nominee George W. Bush .

The previous high for Paul, in Nevada’s caucuses Jan. 19, was 13 percent, which was good for second place behind Romney’s 53 percent.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee , who didn’t compete actively in Maine, had just 6 percent of the preference vote.

The low-profile weekend Republican event in Maine is the last before the onslaught of 21 Republican primary or caucus events looming on Tuesday, variously known as “Super Tuesday,” “Super Duper Tuesday” and “Tsunami Tuesday.” The Maine win may give a psychological boost to the Romney campaign, which has been struggling to overcome its recent setbacks in South Carolina and Florida and has seen its national poll numbers drop sharply at a very inopportune juncture.

Romney’s success in Maine will give him a talking point as he contends that his campaign for the Republican nomination is still viable. On the other side of the coin, a loss in Maine would have been devastating to New Englander Romney, who already lost narrowly to McCain in the Jan. 8 first-in-the-nation primary in New Hampshire.

But the Maine caucus win does not necessarily give Romney the sharp shift in his direction that he needs to get back on even footing with McCain — and pick up at least enough state victories on Tuesday to prevent his leading rival from developing unstoppable momentum.

Romney has, in fact, done best this year in relatively unheralded caucuses held in some of the nation’s least populous states, winning such events in Wyoming on Jan. 5, Nevada on Jan. 19 and this weekend in Maine. A major reason for this is that wealthy businessman Romney, by far the best-funded (and self-funded) candidate in the GOP race, is the only one with the resources to compete everywhere — including caucus events that had low yields in both delegates and media attention.

McCain, though, surged ahead in January’s front-loaded schedule by focusing his time and his more limited resources on primaries that provided him with a much bigger impact, even though he has not won any contest by a landslide margin. McCain edged Romney by 37 percent to 32 percent in New Hampshire; defeated Huckabee by 33 percent to 30 percent in South Carolina (with Romney lagging at 15 percent); and again beat Romney by 5 points (36 percent to 31 percent) in Florida.

Romney’s only primary victory so far came on Jan. 15 in Michigan — the state where he grew up and where his late father, George Romney, was governor in the 1960s — where he defeated McCain by 39 percent to 30 percent. This is a dynamic Romney must change if he is to prevent a big day for McCain on Super Tuesday, when 15 of the 21 states holding Republican events are staging primaries.

The presidential preference vote won by Romney in Maine this weekend was non-binding and does not ensure him of a commensurate share of the state’s 18 pledged delegates, who will not be definitively allocated until the state convention in May. Maine also has three unpledged delegate slots that go to Republican Party officials.

Romney could not take time out himself from the crucial Super Tuesday trail, spending parts of Saturday in Colorado, Utah and Minnesota. But he did delegate his son Tagg, who has been a surrogate campaigner for his father throughout the campaign and was highly visible in Maine prior to and during the caucus voting.

Romney’s wide victory margin nonetheless surprised some local observers, who had been impressed with the big crowds drawn to campaign events by Paul, the only candidate who personally campaigned in Maine. Paul has developed a core group of fervent supporters around his agenda, which includes a sharp reduction in the size and reach of government and — alone among the Republican presidential contenders — strong opposition to the U.S. military involvement in the Iraq war.

“In the last weeks, I was sure it was Ron Paul ,” said Julie Ann O’Brien, executive director of the Maine Republican Party. “But in the last three to five days, both of the Republican candidates [Romney and McCain] really kicked into gear and got people up here.”

Early endorsements by Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins did not lift McCain to victory. O’Brien called McCain’s modest vote share “surprising.”

http://cqpolitics.com/wmspage.cfm?parm1=5&docID=news-000002665241
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