Mitt Romney 311 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
PORTLAND - Maine's Republican presidential caucuses look like a two-man race between Mitt Romney, the party's current front-runner, and libertarian Ron Paul in a small-state contest that has taken on new importance for Romney after his losses in three states this week.
Voting in dozens of local caucuses across Maine's 16 counties has been going on since late January. Results of a non-binding straw poll will be released by the state Republican Party around 7:30 p.m. on Saturday (0030 GMT Sunday).
Among the US Republican contenders seeking to take on Democratic President Barack Obama in the November general election, only Romney, the former governor of nearby Massachusetts, and Paul, a US representative from Texas, have significant ground operations that can spearhead a get-out-the-vote effort.
Maine's population ranks 41st among the 50 U.S. states, but the contest is key for Romney after he lost to former US Senator Rick Santorum in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado this week.
A win could help right the Romney ship, while a loss would be another sign that Republican voters have reservations about his conservative bona fides.
Paul held several well-attended events in Maine in late January. A rally in Freeport on a frigid day attracted an estimated 1,000 Paul loyalists and curious L.L. Bean shoppers - no small feat in a state where total votes cast in the 2008 Republican caucuses was 5,491.