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UPDATE: Mitt Romney managed to hold on to his lead in Maine’s caucuses after Washington County held its vote Saturday. Ron Paul got 163 votes, Romney received 80 votes, Rick Santorum, 57, and Newt Gingrich four. That means Romney still holds a 156-vote lead in the state totals, reports the Associated Press.
Friday, Feb. 17: Mitt Romney is at risk of having a second win move into his loss column.
The New York Times reports that Romney's narrow victory in Maine's presidential straw poll is in doubt now that the state has decided to include the results from Washington County, which delayed its caucuses by a week because of bad weather and will now vote Saturday.
Romney managed to pull out a win over Ron Paul, 39 percent to 36, last week. The difference between the two men, however, was a scant 200 votes or so, meaning that Washington County voters could still push Paul over the top to his first victory. Given the stakes, observers are expecting a chaotic scene this weekend as both campaigns attempt to turn out their supporters.
While the straw poll is non-binding, it nonetheless has already played its part in the 2012 narrative, providing Romney with a chance to stop the bleeding after Rick Santorum captured the media spotlight with a surprising sweep in a trio of contests the previous week. A reversal in Maine could cause more headaches for Romney, especially as he and Santorum continue to duke it out ahead of Super Tuesday.
The nominating season began in Iowa with an apparent caucus win for Romney, although after a recount, Rick Santorum was declared the winner. The NYT explains that in Maine, party rules allowed for Romney to be declared the outright winner, even though several towns had not yet voted. But under increasing pressure, state Republican leaders reversed that decision on Thursday.
Monday, Feb. 13: Did the GOP establishment steal Maine's caucuses from Ron Paul and hand the win to Mitt Romney?
That’s what some Paul supporters were grumbling about Monday, lamenting that the decision to call off Saturday’s polling in Maine’s Washington County due to inclement weather was the GOP establishment’s latest trick in keeping Paul off the presidential ticket.
"[Y]ou and I saw a perfect example of just how much the establishment fears Ron Paul," John Tate, Paul's campaign manager, wrote to supporters over the weekend. "In Washington County—where Ron Paul was incredibly strong—the caucus was delayed until next week just so the votes wouldn’t be reported by the national media today."
"Of course, their excuse for the delay was 'snow.' That’s right. A prediction of 3-4 inches—that turned into nothing more than a dusting—was enough for a local GOP official to postpone the caucuses just so the results wouldn’t be reported tonight/ ... And just the votes of Washington County would have been enough to put us over the top. ... The truth is, there is no length to which the GOP establishment won’t go."
Paul's team stopped short of naming names when it came to who exactly might be behind the alleged establishment plot, but it was clear who would have benefited the most from it. Mitt Romney took 39 percent of Maine’s straw poll Saturday, narrowly edging out Paul and his 36 percent. (Rick Santorum finished with 18 percent; Newt Gingrich 6 percent.)
Not everyone is buying into the conspiracy plot, as you would expect. Peter Grier, a politics blogger at the Christian Science Monitor, notes that the northeastern Washington County actually does get pretty cold and icy in the winter, so the decision to postpone its caucus wasn't far-fetched. Furthermore, Grier writes, it's not clear that even if 100 percent of the county's Republican residents had showed up that it would have been enough to give Paul his first victory of the GOP nominating contest.
Paul had a rare opportunity in winning the Maine caucus, since the state has long held independent views and been a stronghold for fiscal conservatives and libertarians. But as the New York Times notes, the straw poll was a mere beauty contest of personal preferences, since the allocation of the frigid state’s 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention won’t be chosen until a convention in May.