Brian Snyder / Reuters
Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting campaign stop Friday in Portland, Maine.
PORTLAND, Maine -- In an effort to reverse a three-state losing streak, the Romney campaign announced Friday afternoon that its candidate would put off his first trip home in 2012, and instead visit two caucus sites here in Maine, where the winner of the state's non-binding caucus will be announced Saturday night.
Mitt Romney will speak at a caucus in the state's largest city, Portland, and in Sanford, where Ron Paul is also expected to appear less than an hour before the former Massachusetts governor. As in other caucus states, candidates or their surrogates are allowed to speak briefly to attendees before voting begins. These will be the first caucuses this cycle where Romney will speak on his own behalf, after dispatching campaign staffers, supporters, and four of his five sons to speak for him at caucuses in Iowa.
Romney's campaign has downplayed other contests, like Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, that do not award delegates directly, but Maine may appear too tempting of a target to ignore. In 2008, Romney more than doubled John McCain's vote total in winning the state, and Romney's strong performance in neighboring New Hampshire and years as governor down the road in Massachusetts all mean he is a known commodity here, without having to spend much time or money campaigning.
"The lakes of Northern New England are very special to me," Romney told the crowd at a town hall event Friday night, reminding them that he owns a home on Lake Winnepesaukee, just a 90 minute drive away.
Romney's biggest opponent in the Pine Tree State will likely be Ron Paul, whose libertarian views play well here, and whose campaign has focused its energy on winning delegates in caucus states. Paul's strongest performance in the campaign thus far was next door in New Hampshire, where he finished a distant second behind Romney.
Complicating predictions of victory for any candidate in Maine -- the state's weeks-long caucus process, in which different municipalities gather on different days to cast their ballots. The process began on Jan. 29, and in some places will continue until March, though the local Republican party will announce a winner Saturday.
Another factor? Turnout. In 2008, fewer than 5,500 Mainers cast votes in the state's caucuses. Turnout this year is expected to be equally low, with a Romney campaign adviser estimating 6,000 people may caucus in total. To put that in perspective, at least 300 people attended Romney's town hall here Friday night.
If they all caucus Saturday, they would make up 5 percent of the total vote.