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Ron Paul still waiting for elusive first victory

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Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Texas) campaign may have blown its best chance at winning a state in the Republican presidential contest last week in Maine.

But there will be other opportunities in the weeks ahead.

The final results from Maine showed Paul losing to Mitt Romney by fewer than 200 votes. His campaign is crying foul over one county having postponed its caucus, but the result seems set in stone.

It’s the second time Paul has narrowly lost a state; let’s not forget that he was polling like a front-runner in Iowa before finishing in third place, four points back.

Republican presidential candidate Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) kicks balloons from the stage after speaking to supporters following his second-place finish in the Maine caucuses. (Robert F. Bukaty — Associated Press)

The Maine loss, though, has to be tough to swallow, given how close it was and all the advantages Paul had.

First, Maine’s caucuses have a lower turnout than any other contest, save for Montana and Wyoming. There were even more GOP ballots cast in heavily Democratic Washington, D.C., in its 2008 primary than there were in Maine.

Second, Maine is one of only two states — the other being Wyoming — where caucuses are held over the course of a week. That makes organizing for them much more involved and would seem to favor a grassroots campaign like Paul’s.

Paul’s campaign can take some solace knowing that, for the second straight contest, it set a new record-high percentage of the vote for its 2008 and 2012 campaigns. After taking 27 percent in Minnesota’s caucuses on Tuesday, it took 36 percent in Maine.

Alas, it came up short of victory.

The good news, though, is that there are other chances to perform well and maybe even score that elusive victory.

The campaign’s top hopes appear to be in caucuses held in Washington state on March 3 and those held in Alaska, North Dakota and Idaho on Super Tuesday on March 6.

Paul took at least 17 percent of the vote in each of those states in 2008, but his best showing was in Idaho, where he took 24 percent.

That was in a primary; this year’s contest is a caucus, which will reduce turnout and could help Paul increase his share of the vote.

But victory there will be very difficult given that the state is more than one-quarter Mormon. The Mormon vote went a long way toward giving Romney a huge win in Nevada earlier this month. Mormons voted almost uniformly for the former Massachusetts governor and turned out in huge numbers in the GOP caucuses even though Mormons are less than one-tenth of the population in that state.

Washington state would also seem a good opportunity, but after some caucus trouble over the past week, Romney’s team Monday signaled that it will put forth real effort in the state’s caucuses in hopes of avoiding another embarrassment. And Rick Santorum is physically in the state today, a signal that he will also compete there.

The Romney campaign Monday released a slew of endorsements in the state and organized a conference call focused on the state’s caucuses Monday.

“Ron Paul does have some pockets of strong support through the years in Washington state, but I can tell you as we are putting together the organization for Gov. Romney in Washington state, I’m very encouraged by the people that are stepping up,” Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said on the conference call.

The real best shots, then, might be on Super Tuesday, when Paul could pluck out a victory in either Alaska or North Dakota while the other candidates focus elsewhere.

Paul’s campaign is focused more on delegates than the caucus votes. But for a campaign seeking relevance in the presidential process, a win in any of these states could go a long way for Paul.

We will see if he can get over the hump in the weeks ahead.

Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.

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