Mitt Romney has won the Maine caucuses, turning aside a valiant effort from Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) and getting back on the winning side of the ledger after a tough week.
Results of the week-long caucuses released Saturday evening by the Maine Republican Party showed Romney with 39 percent of the vote, Paul with 36 percent, Rick Santorum with 18 percent and Newt Gingrich with 6 percent.
Coupled with his victory in Saturday’s straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, the Maine win gives the GOP front-runner and former Massachusetts governor a substantial boost heading into a 17-day period in which there will be no contests.
The odd Maine caucuses (more on the format here) are considered less important than the single-day caucuses held in Colorado and Minnesota on Tuesday, but a loss by Romney would probably have perpetuated the idea that he has a problem sealing the deal on the GOP nomination.
The loss in Maine would have hurt less, though, given that his top competition was Paul rather than Santorum or Gingrich, who are seen as the real threats to Romney’s path the nomination. Paul has a very active base of support that nearly won him his first presidential contest, but turnout was fewer than 6,000 voters and Maine isn’t exactly home to the conservative wing of the Republican Party.
Romney, meanwhile, finished far ahead of his new top challenger, Santorum. Santorum won three contests held Tuesday — in Colorado, in Minnesota and in a “beauty contest” primary in Missouri — that had no actual impact on the GOP race.
Save for some late appearances from the candidates, nobody besides Paul put much emphasis on Maine. As with Colorado and Minnesota, the results of the straw poll portion of the caucuses have no direct impact on the allocation of delegates.
The next contests in the GOP presidential race aren’t until Feb. 28, when Arizona and Michigan hold primaries.