After a surprisingly poor showing in Tuesday's contests, and growing intra-party doubts about his candidacy, Mitt Romney needed a win to help change the larger conversation. Last night in Maine, he got one.
Mitt Romney averted embarrassment on Saturday when he was declared the winner of a presidential straw poll in Maine's nonbinding caucuses.He won 39 percent of the vote, barely edging out Representative Ron Paul of Texas, the only other Republican candidate to campaign actively in the state. Mr. Paul drew 36 percent. [...]Mr. Romney scraped by Mr. Paul by just 194 votes. But fewer than 6,000 votes were cast -- about 2 percent of registered Republicans.
Given the week they've had, Romney and his team will no doubt take some solace in their Maine victory, but it is not without caveats. The ostensible frontrunner for the Republican presidential nomination should arguably be able to muster more than a three-point win over Ron Paul -- especially in light of Romney's perceived regional advantage in New England.
Indeed, Romney won Maine four years ago with nearly 52% of the vote. This year, he won with less than 40% support of Republican Mainers.
After the former governor's poor showing in Minnesota, Colorado, and Missouri, Romney backers effectively said those contests didn't count because Romney wasn't really trying to win in any of those states. That excuse doesn't apply in Maine -- fearing another embarrassment, Romney not only campaigned in the Pine Tree State, he also invested in radio and television advertising. He still only won by three points.
Romney's win, in other words, is pretty underwhelming, and hardly represents evidence of a political powerhouse.
Let's also note that Rick Santorum finished third with 18%, and Newt Gingrich was fourth with 6%. In three of the four contests this week, the former Speaker finished last (in Colorado, he barely edged Paul to avoid a fourth-place finish).
Looking ahead, the GOP race now enters a lull of sorts. The next two contests -- primaries in Arizona and Michigan -- are more than two weeks away.