Caucus participants in Maine, beginning Saturday, have a week to voice their support for their preferred candidates for the Republican presidential nominee against President Obama.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who carried Maine in 2008 with 52 percent of the vote, has been organizing in the Pine State, and is expected to do well -- read win -- in the second New England state participating in an early presidential preference poll.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas also wants a strong showing in Maine because it is part of his strategy to win delegates -- not necessarily states -- that can make him a force all the way to August's Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
But Maine's week-long, non-binding process -- the initial step in selecting the state's 24 delegates to the Republican convention, likely won't shake up the GOP race, independent analysts told The Kennebec Journal last week.
"What the Maine caucuses will show is who is well-organized and who is turning people out," said Brent Littlefield, a Washington Republican political consultant not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns. "Will there be reporters camped out along the streets in Portland and in the coffee shops in Bangor? Likely not."
Tell that to Paul, who abandoned Florida, a primary state Romney won earlier this week, in favor of stumping in caucus states such as Maine.
"What am I doing in Maine? Why am I not in Florida?" he asked during a recent rally. "I came to get delegates. That's what we're doing here."
Paul told CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday he thinks he'll do well in the state.
"After spending two days-plus up in Maine, I was very encouraged. The turnouts were fantastic," he said. "Usually overflow crowds. Tremendous enthusiasm. The other candidates aren't paying much attention. The interest was phenomenal. I think that's a real good place for us to break through."
Romney has been popular in the Pine State, "but less so now," Paul said. "So I would say that we have a very good chance. We're going to have an excellent showing."
Paul also made a bold prediction:
"I don't know how many candidates really like to say, 'I am going to be in first place,'" he said. "I do really believe we're going to do quite well there and [have] a very good chance of winning."
While Romney and Paul are stumping hard, Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster told the Journal he hasn't seen much evidence of Republicans Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.
Amy Walter, ABC News' political director, noted Maine's contest was among a handful of primaries and caucuses in February before the two dozen primaries in March, starting with "Super Tuesday" March 6.
"Where Maine and Colorado and Minnesota and Nevada become important is that they provide an opportunity for Mitt Romney to make the case that he is on a roll and racking up delegates and denying Newt Gingrich much oxygen, or they become a place where we see Ron Paul saying [caucus states are] his bailiwick," Walter told the Journal.
CNN reported less than 5,500 Republicans showed up for the Maine caucuses in 2008, and the turnout isn't expected to be much higher this year.
"The caucuses here are kind of a hard sell," said Michael Quatrano, executive director of the state GOP. "We're a very liberal state."
Results of the "presidential preference ballot" will be revealed Feb. 11 by the Maine Republican Party.
The RealClearPolitics.com average of polls issued Friday showed Gingrich with a miniscule 0.7 percentage point edge over Romney.
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