Will Mitt Romney suffer his fourth straight defeat Saturday?
That’s the big question this weekend as the GOP presidential race heads to Maine, which announces the results of its week-long municipal caucuses Saturday night.
Like this week’s contests in Minnesota and Colorado, the Pine Tree State’s caucuses are non-binding, meaning that they play a role in the delegate-selection process but that the actual awarding of delegates won’t happen until later.
And as in the contests earlier this week, a potential loss in Maine would represent a symbolic blow to Romney in his quest to clinch the GOP presidential nod.
Neither former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) nor former senator Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) has made a play for Maine, meaning that Saturday’s contest will essentially be a battle between Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, and Rep. Ron Paul, the libertarian-leaning Texas congressman whose enthusiastic supporters have made caucus states a focus of their efforts.
In an interview Thursday with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, Paul – who has not held a campaign-trail event since Tuesday night – said that he believes he has a shot at winning in Maine.
“Are you going to win the Maine caucuses Saturday?” Blitzer asked.
”I think we have a chance to do that,” Paul responded. “And I’ll be up there and struggling up to the last minute. But every time I’ve been up there so far, it has been wonderful. And I’m so pleased that they’re very receptive to the ideas of liberty, and I’m cautiously optimistic about Saturday.”
Four years ago, Romney swept the Maine caucuses, taking 52 percent to Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) 22 percent and Paul’s 18 percent.
But in an ultra-low-turnout contest such as Maine’s, which side is more energized to show up makes all the difference – and that unpredictability gives Paul and his supporters a window of opportunity.
In 2008, only about 5,500 voters participated in the Maine GOP caucuses -- a turnout of just over 2 percent of the state’s roughly 253,000 registered Republicans.
Paul held six town hall meetings in the state over two days at the end of January. Meanwhile, Romney’s town hall in Portland Friday night will be his first visit to the state this cycle, although he held a tele-town hall and has sent surrogates – including his son, Tagg – to campaign on his behalf.
Neither candidate has had a significant presence on the state’s airwaves, a factor that could hinder Romney, who has generally performed well in states where he has invested resources on television ads.
With 17 days between tomorrow’s caucuses and the next nominating contests in Arizona and Michigan, the caucus results in the Pine Tree State could resonate on the campaign trail well past Saturday night — particularly if Paul ekes out his first-ever win in a nominating contest.