Romney wins Maine caucuses

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney on Saturday won Maine's Republican primary contest, reversing a week-long skid and halting, at least temporarily, the recent momentum of former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

With 95 percent of precincts reporting, Romney had secured 39 percent of the vote, versus 36 percent for second-place finisher Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

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Santorum, who was fresh from surprise victories in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, finished third with 18 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) trailed a distant fourth with 6 percent.

Romney congratulated his rivals for fighting a good campaign in Maine, saying in a statement that while they had their differences, all were united in their opposition to President Obama.

"I thank the voters of Maine for their support," Romney said. "I’m committed to turning around America. And I’m heartened to have the support of so many good people in this great state."

Romney's success in Maine helped to curb the narrative that had emerged over the past week about his inability to appeal to enough conservative voters to be able to capture the Republican nomination. Romney lost to Rick Santorum on Tuesday in primary contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, upending the notion that he had all but locked up the nomination.

Romney spent the week since his three-pronged loss to Santorum making the case for his conservative credentials, telling activists at CPAC that he had been a "severely conservative" governor in Massachusetts.

The efforts seem to have paid off both in Maine and at CPAC, where Romney won a straw poll of more than 3,000 activists by 7 points over Rick Santorum. Ron Paul, the only candidate not to speak at CPAC, came in last, despite having won the straw poll in both of the past two years.

Paul's second-place finish was one of his best showings to date in the presidential contest, but nonetheless added one more state to the list that have voted without handing Paul a single victory. Paul campaigned heavily in Maine, hoping he would benefit from the caucus-style format. Paul has historically performed best in caucus states that favor candidates who are able to turn out a heavily mobilized base of supporters.

Paul's campaign said he had been barely bested by Romney. The campaign said was confident it could close the margin with additional votes that would be counted from the caucus in Maine's Washington County.

“Today’s results show once again that Congressman Paul’s campaign for liberty and a return to Constitutional principles is strong and growing,” said Paul spokesman Jesse Benton. “We are confident that we will control the Maine delegation for the convention in August.

The race turns Sunday to Michigan and Arizona, the next two states to vote. Both hold contests on Feb. 28.

Romney is well-positioned in both of those states. His father served as Michigan's governor, and Arizona has a large population of Mormon voters. But with almost three weeks and a Feb. 22 debate before those contests, plenty could change.

A national survey released Saturday by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling showed Santorum with a 15-point lead over Romney.

This post was updated at 7:15 p.m.