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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% of the vote, edging out Representative Ron Paul of Texas, the only other Republican candidate to campaign actively in the state. Mr. Paul drew 36%.
Rick Santorum won 18%, and Newt Gingrich won 6%.
Mr. Romney scraped by Mr. Paul by just 194 votes. Fewer than 6,000 votes were cast, about 2% of registered Republicans.
The vote had no substantive meaning in terms of delegates, but losing it could have created a political headache for Mr. Romney and extended a storyline building since last week when he lost Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri to Mr. Santorum.
Those losses increased the importance of Maine’s caucuses, and an additional loss on Saturday would have magnified concerns that he cannot seal the deal with voters.
Mr. Romney also won the straw poll of activists at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday. He took 38% of the votes, compared with 31% for Mr. Santorum, 15% for Mr. Gingrich, and 12% for Mr. Paul.
Mr. Romney was among those who had ignored Maine, until he arrived Friday night. In the face of tough questioning at a town-hall-style meeting in Portland and the evidence of strong organization by Mr. Paul, Mr. Romney campaigned at caucus sites.
Mr. Paul made a foray to the state last month and also visited caucus sites on Saturday.
It was not clear how much the late activity helped either candidate because many people had already voted in the rolling caucuses, which began on January 29.
Mr. Romney easily won the low-turnout caucuses four years ago, with Mr. Paul coming in third.
This time around, Maine offered a rare opportunity for Mr. Paul, a libertarian, to plant his flag.
New England Republicans are generally more moderate than the party’s supporters elsewhere, but the Maine members are fiercely independent, and the state has become a cauldron of activity for Tea Party supporters, fiscal conservatives, and libertarians.
Mr. Romney still leads the field in number of delegates, but Maine did not add any. The state’s twenty-four delegates will not be picked until a convention in May.