PORTLAND, Maine // Mitt Romney eked out a narrow win in Maine's Republican caucuses, state party officials announced, providing his campaign for the party's presidential nomination a much-needed boost after three straight losses earlier this week.
But the former Massachusetts governor's margin of victory over Texas Representative Ron Paul on Saturday was so slim it all but guaranteed scrutiny of the party's decision not to count the results of caucuses scheduled later in February.
Mr Romney is working to gain trust from the conservative activists who make up the Republican base and who drive the party's state-by-state nominating contest. They view him sceptically because of his past shifts on a variety of issues, including his previous support for abortion rights.
Conservatives generally view Mr Romney's chief rivals - former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of Representatives - as having views more in line with them.
Mr Romney's victory in Maine came just hours after he won the presidential straw poll at the Conservative Political Action Committee Conference in Washington. He was supported as the Republican presidential nominee by 38 per cent of the 3,408 respondents, edging out Mr Santorum with 31 per cent. Mr Gingrich was backed by 15 per cent, and Mr Paul had 12 per cent.
These results helped slow a skid that began earlier this week when Mr Santorum, who has strong support from social conservatives, won contests in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado. Mr Romney had all but ignored Mr Santorum before these contests.
At the Washington conference of conservative activists, Mr Romney delivered a high-profile address on Friday in which he described himself as "a severely conservative Republican governor".
In Maine, at a state party gathering in Portland, state Republican Chairman Charlie Webster announced Mr Romney had won with 2,190 votes, or 39 per cent, compared to 1,996, or 36 per cent, for Paul, the only other candidate to aggressively compete in the state.
Maine's caucuses began February 4 and continued throughout the week. But the results announced yesterday accounted for just 83 per cent of all precincts in the state. Several communities elected to hold their caucuses at a later date.
Mr Romney leads the overall race for delegates, with 123. Mr Santorum has 72, Mr Gingrich has 32 and Mr Paul has 19. It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination.