Romney does campaign first as Paul hopes for first win in Maine
Portland, Maine (CNN) -- Following a trio of embarrassing losses, Mitt Romney did something he has not done this election cycle while Ron Paul hoped for his first win.
On Saturday, hours before Maine's Republican Party announced results of its caucuses, Romneyl visited caucus sites on voting day -- something he had not done in previous contests this cycle.
Meanwhile, Paul hopes to break his losing streak, having gone 0-for-8 in the previous races to date.
The moves come four days after rival Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum swept contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. Santorum and Newt Gingrich are not actively competing in the contest.
"The race is going to come down to Paul or Romney, just because the other guys haven't really been here and been involved," Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster said.
"Maine is an important state because it's a swing state," Maine Sen. Susan Collins said.
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"Candidates who campaign here are frequently rewarded with votes. People in Maine want to get to know the people who represent them."
No other candidate except Paul recently campaigned in Maine. But that changed Friday, when Romney held a town hall in Portland -- his first visit to the Pine Tree state this entire election cycle.
That instantly set up a two-man contest between New England's current favorite political son and the Texas congressman Paul, who has a loyal libertarian following.
The two men hardly blast each other on the campaign trail. Yet Romney's 11th-hour move appeared to be an effort to further Paul's losing streak and rebound from an embarrassing shutout on Tuesday and avoid a headline of another caucus loss.
"We hope to do as well as possible in Maine," Romney spokesman Ryan Williams said.
Williams noted the campaign previously sent prominent Romney supporters to Maine -- most notably the candidate's wife, Ann Romney. Romney also has deep ties in the state: he won its caucuses in 2008, and has long been active in Republican politics in the state as a leading political figure in nearby Massachusetts.
In Friday's town hall meeting, Romney played up his affinity for New England, telling the crowd, "What a beautiful place you live in" and mentioning one of his homes located in New Hampshire.
"We enjoy the chance to be with New Englanders," Romney said, referring to his campaign visit.
Still, Romney's campaign also seemed to downplay expectations.
"Ron Paul has a strong organization in the state," Williams said, adding that the campaign would be fine with a second- or even third-place finish.
Romney will visit two caucus sites on Saturday, making general comments to caucus-goers but not speaking during the caucuses themselves.
In previous contests, Romney only attended rallies or met with voters on voting day. For example, on January 3 in Iowa, he held a rally in Des Moines and on January 31 in Florida, he visited a local campaign headquarters.
Until recently, the race seemed to be Paul's for the taking. As his opponents took hot pursuit of delegates in other states, Paul packed up his V-neck sweaters and headed north -- campaigning over two days in Maine in late January in the run-up to the Florida primary.
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Huge crowds, a loyal following and the state's caucus system -- which emphasizes open discussion and persuasion over closed voting -- seemed to give Paul the edge.
Paul discussed the prospect of his first win Tuesday, just after finishing second in the Minnesota caucuses.
"The No. 1 place where we're going to be keying in on, working on is Maine," Paul said. "Because we've had some really good information there. There's a lot of enthusiasm there. And I think, after that, we'll decide on where the next caucus state will be."
On Saturday, Paul will start his day at the same caucus site that Romney will attend -- though the two men are not expected to cross paths, their speaking times to caucus-goers slated to be about 45 minutes apart.
Paul will attend two other caucus sites later in the day. The congressman did not hold any events on Friday.
At Romney's Portland town hall, the candidate steered clear of naming Santorum and Gingrich. Instead, Romney continued to train his fire on the man holding the office he seeks, blasting President Barack Obama's economic and domestic policies.
Yet Romney also came under fire from hecklers who persisted in pestering him and peppering him with questions. At various turns, a heckler screamed that "Romneycare" was the blueprint for "Obamacare," insisted that the nation's financial system needed to be regulated and -- at one point -- accused Romney of "not telling the truth" on certain issues.
The candidate would have none of it. Romney engaged the heckler -- and others who later joined in -- by directly challenging their assertions.
"It was a wonderful reception in Maine," Romney said when asked why he got such a tough reaction from the crowd. "Of course, there are always going to be people who are in favor of President Obama. But if people want to replace President Obama, they're going to vote for me."
When asked what the rough reception might suggest about his chances in the Saturday contest, Romney said: "What it says is I'm going to do pretty well, I think."
Twenty-one delegates are at stake in Maine. The state GOP encouraged municipalities to hold their caucuses between February 4 and 11, but some began in late January.
The contest is only open to registered Republicans, though independents and unregistered voters may register as Republicans on Saturday to participate in the caucuses.