Maine's Republican Party decided to switch things up this election year in order to grab some national attention from both the media and presidential candidates. It looks like it worked out.
The Pine Tree State has been holding municipal GOP presidential caucuses since last Saturday and will continue through this Saturday, when they will announce the cumulative results.
It's the only state to weigh in on the race between Tuesday's surprising results for former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who swept contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, and larger primaries scheduled at the end of the month in Arizona and Michigan.
"It looks like Mitt Romney is coming here on Friday, someplace in Portland," says Charlie Webster, Maine GOP chairman. "And I was called yesterday and there's some chance that the Ron Paul people might come, too."
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who was riding high after large recent wins in Florida and Nevada, and Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who has yet to notch a win in the race, are both vying for first place in Maine. It's a state much like New Hampshire, where Romney and Paul finished one and two, that's known for its New England brand of Rockefeller Republicanism paired with a strong dose of libertarianism.
Webster says Romney has stayed active in Maine since he served time as Massachusetts governor and always been willing to stump for candidates in big races.
"He's paid his dues; he's probably been here 10 times since 2006," Webster says. "He's been kind of a local celebrity that we'd bring in when were raising money. He's been very active here in Maine."
Webster says Ron Paul enjoys the same active, raucous base in Maine as he does elsewhere.
"He's got the same support he's got all over the country. He's got young people and people who like the fact that he's a strong, principled guy," he says.
Because of the unique, week-long manner in which Maine chose to host its caucuses, it's unlikely Santorum will be able to capitalize on the momentum he gained Tuesday.
"I've been to half a dozen or more caucuses and I've had several dozen people tell me they were for Santorum or for Gingrich, but they were not going to vote for them because they understand the race in Maine is between Romney and Paul," Webster says. "So they want to have their votes count."
At some gatherings, neither Santorum nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich had representatives making their case to voters, Webster says.
So while many voters have already weighed in, the rest of the country will have to stay in suspense until Saturday.
"The state committee asked the towns to keep it secret and the only person that knows is the executive secretary of the party, she's keeping the tally and she's got the spreadsheet," Webster says, chuckling.
It's likely both Romney and Paul will push hard in the final days before the last votes are cast in Maine, as Romney wants to stop his losing streak while Paul is still seeking his first state win.
Another wrinkle in Maine is the lack of input by top elected Maine Republicans in the race. Gov. Paul LePage, who was elected in 2010 in a three-way contest and in the heat of the Tea Party movement, suffers one of the lowest approval ratings of any governor in the country. GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe have also remained mum. Collins recently hinted at support of Romney, but fell short of an endorsement. Snowe, who is facing a pair of Tea Party challengers in her 2012 re-election bid, has also declined to weigh in.
Not that top tier endorsements have meant much in this race so far. Just ask Gov. Nikki Haley of South Carolina and former Gov. Tim Pawlenty of Minnesota, who both endorsed Romney, only to have him lose their home states.
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