Mitt Romney Inches Ahead With Two Crucial Wins

Mitt Romney

The GOP frontrunner wins the Maine caucuses and the bellwether straw poll at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference.

Mitt Romney had a good day Saturday, winning both the straw poll at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington and Maine’s non-binding Republican nominating caucuses.

Though the victories brought the former Massachusetts governor no additional convention delegates, they saved his frequently stuttering campaign from the sort of embarrassment he suffered when rival Rick Santorum swept the recent round of Western and Midwestern GOP caucuses.

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The importance Romney attached to Maine was demonstrated Saturday, when he left Washington following the conservative straw poll and flew to the New England state to campaign in person. While the results were heartening for Romney, they were a major disappointment to Texas congressman Ron Paul, who campaigned hard in Maine and regarded the state — with its numerous libertarian-leaning Republicans — as his best chance of actually winning one statewide nominating contest. He did manage a close second.

Paul told his supporters Saturday that he still hoped to win Maine after all the caucus votes are counted.

"We lost by 190 votes," Paul said. "It's almost like we could call it a tie."

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He added: "If I were a betting man -- and I don't have $10,000 to bet -- I would bet we will control the Maine caucus when we go to Tampa" for the Republican National Convention in August.

The numbers of votes cast were small, owing to both Maine’s small population and the peculiarities of the caucus rules there, which allow local GOP committees to opt out of the process. The state’s actual convention delegates will be chosen at a statewide convention later this spring. Romney, who also won Maine in 2008 with more than 50 percent of the vote, captured 39 percent or 2,190 of the ballots cast Saturday.

Paul won 36 percent or 1,996 votes. Santorum was a distant third with 18 percent or 989 of the ballots, while Newt Gingrich received just 6 percent or 349 votes. Neither the one-time Pennsylvania senator nor the former Speaker of the House campaigned in Maine.

In the context of the race for the GOP nomination, Romney’s CPAC victory probably was more significant, as it marked the first time he’s received any significant stamp of approval from the party’s ideological conservatives.