BANGOR, Maine — A flurry of last-minute activity by two Republican candidates has put the spotlight on Maine ahead of Saturday’s announcement by the state GOP of its presidential preference poll results.
Ron Paul’s campaign announced Friday that the Texas representative will return to Maine on Saturday in an effort to score his first victory of the primary season.
Paul spent two days in Maine ahead of last weekend, when state Republicans first began caucusing. As of Friday, 48 caucuses had been held across the state, according to GOP executive director Michael Quatrano. Another 37 are scheduled for Saturday, although Washington County caucuses were postponed late Friday because of the expected snowstorm on Saturday. They are now scheduled for Feb. 18.
Paul will appear at three caucuses Saturday — at 8 a.m. in Sanford, at 10 a.m. in Lewiston and at 12:30 p.m. in New Gloucester. He also will address supporters at a caucus party event at 6 p.m. at the Seasons Event and Conference Center in Portland.
The Maine Republican Party is hosting its own event on Saturday at the Regency Hotel in Portland, during which the results of a presidential preference poll will be announced. The preference poll will determine which candidate “wins” Maine but is actually separate from the caucus results, which won’t be made final for several weeks, Quatrano said.
Several Maine GOP leaders, including Sen. Susan Collins, House Speaker Robert Nutting and Secretary of State Charlie Summers, are expected to speak at that event.
Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who addressed Maine supporters at an event in Portland late Friday, announced earlier in the day that he too would appear at caucus sites on Saturday.
Romney’s campaign announced early Friday afternoon that the candidate would appear at caucus sites at 8:50 a.m. in Sanford and at 10:15 a.m. in Portland.
That means Paul and Romney could cross paths in Sanford.
The two candidates are in a close race to win the Pine Tree State, according to political observers. The two other Republican candidates, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, have not campaigned in Maine.
University of Maine political scientist Mark Brewer said he’s not surprised about the late push in Maine by Romney and Paul.
“This is probably Paul’s best chance to win a state,” he said. “If he can, it gets the monkey off his back.”
Politico reported this week that Romney bought television ads in Maine ahead of this weekend. He also participated in a tele-town hall on Wednesday during which he answered questions from Mainers on a variety of topics.
“After his losses on Tuesday, I would have had him in Maine on Wednesday,” Brewer said. “A loss here from Romney, it’s not catastrophic, but it’s certainly a continuation of bad news. I could see problems for Romney on Super Tuesday.”
Romney had been cruising toward the nomination until earlier this week, when Santorum swept a trio of states — Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri — to stall the front-runner’s momentum. Many conservative Republicans do not appear ready to embrace Romney as their choice.
In the 2008 Maine GOP caucus, Romney was supported by 51 percent of caucus participants, followed by eventual nominee John McCain at 21 percent and Paul with 18 percent.
Brewer said he still thinks the longer the GOP nomination process drags on this year, the more it helps President Barack Obama.