Romney's campaign back on track after two wins

Mon, Feb 13, 2012, 00:00

MITT ROMNEY saved face and restored his nominal title of Republican frontrunner this weekend when he won the Maine caucuses and a straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Conference (Cpac) in Washington.

Mr Romney needed a boost after unexpectedly losing caucuses in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri to Rick Santorum on February 7th.

The votes on Saturday were his only chance to shift the momentum against him before Arizona and Michigan hold primaries on February 28th.

Both victories however were diminished by circumstances. Fewer than 5,600 people voted in Maine and no delegates are awarded by the caucuses. Maine will not choose its 24 delegates to the Republican convention until May.

The Maine contest was deemed so insignificant that neither Newt Gingrich nor Rick Santorum campaigned there. Had it not been for his losses to Mr Santorum last Tuesday, it is doubtful that Mr Romney would have shown up for a rally on Friday evening and three caucus meetings on Saturday.

In 2008, Mr Romney defeated John McCain in Maine by more than 30 percentage points. On Saturday night, he beat Texas representative Ron Paul by only three points, at 39 to 36 per cent. Mr Santorum won 18 per cent and Mr Gingrich took 6 per cent.

In his statement on the Maine caucuses, Mr Romney said that although he and his Republican rivals “may have our differences”, they were “united in our determination to bring Barack Obama’s reign of failure to an end”.

He again vaunted his status as “the only candidate . . . who has never served a day in our broken federal government”.

There is also the possibility of an outcome similar to that in Iowa, where Mr Romney was declared the winner only to be unseated by Mr Santorum after a recount several weeks later.

Mr Paul campaigned hard in Maine, an independent-minded state that is receptive to his libertarian views.

Mr Romney won Maine by only 194 votes. The Paul campaign insinuated skulduggery and said it would gain more than 200 votes in its stronghold of Washington county, where a Republican official postponed the vote because of snow.

“Their excuse for the delay was ‘snow’,” the Paul campaign complained in a statement. “That’s right. A prediction of three to four inches – that turned into nothing more than a dusting . . . This is Maine we’re talking about. The Girl Scouts had an event today in Washington county that wasn’t cancelled.”

Mr Paul had won the Cpac straw poll last year, but did not attend the 10,000-strong annual meeting in Washington on Thursday, Friday and Saturday last.

Of 3,408 votes cast at Cpac, Mr Romney won 38 per cent, followed by Mr Santorum at 31 per cent, Mr Gingrich at 15 per cent and Mr Paul at 12 per cent.

A national poll, however, conducted by Cpac showed Mr Santorum only two percentage points behind Mr Romney.

Mr Romney’s Cpac victory dented the widely held view that he cannot win over the party’s conservative base.

In his address to the gathering, Mr Romney said he had been “a severely conservative governor of Massachusetts”, explaining how his family, Mormon faith and business career shaped his conservatism.

“Had Romney delivered this speech months ago, he might have saved himself some grief,” Jennifer Rubin wrote in a Washington Postblog. “It showed he knows he needs to comfort conservatives. It showed he has a conservative agenda. Now he’s got to do it again and again.”

Former vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin was the last and most enthusiastically received speaker at Cpac.

She said the competitiveness of the Republican race strengthened the party against Mr Obama and implied criticism of Mr Romney, stressing the key role of “constitutional conservative principles”.

It was, Mrs Palin said: “Too late in the game to teach it or to spin it . . . It’s either there or it isn’t.”