WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney hopes the Maine caucuses that conclude Feb. 11 will be part of a string of victories in February that help convince Republicans he is their inevitable presidential nominee.

Romney’s rival Ron Paul seeks a strong showing in Maine as part of his strategy to show that his performances in caucuses can make him a force all the way to the Republican National Convention.

However, Maine’s weeklong, nonbinding “presidential straw poll,” the first step in selecting the state’s 24 delegates to the Republican convention, isn’t likely to shake up the GOP race or attract a national news media presence, independent analysts say.

“What the Maine caucuses will show is who is well-organized and who is turning people out,” said Brent Littlefield, a Washington-based Republican political consultant who has done extensive work in Maine, including for Gov. Paul LePage.

“Will there be reporters camped out along the streets in Portland and in the coffee shops in Bangor? Likely not,” said Littlefield, who is not affiliated with any of the presidential campaigns.

Maine GOP Chairman Charlie Webster said Romney and Paul are running hard in Maine, but he doesn’t see evidence of the campaigns of Republicans Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

Gingrich and Santorum may effectively be skipping Maine to marshal their forces elsewhere in an attempt to overtake Romney, analysts say.

Nonetheless, Webster said he hopes that the state party’s event Feb. 11 at the Portland Regency to announce the winner — after more than a week of caucus events around the state — will draw a lot of attention.

To make its caucuses more noteworthy nationally, the Maine GOP decided to shorten the caucuses, which used to run from Jan. 1 until mid-March.

Webster, who has not endorsed anyone, called Romney the favorite in Maine. He noted that Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, easily won the Maine caucuses in 2008.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she won’t make a formal endorsement before the Maine caucuses, but said in an interview Tuesday that Romney “has the experience we need.”

Collins urged Romney to visit Maine before the caucuses.

Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine said in an interview Tuesday that she isn’t making an endorsement because she is focusing on her Senate primary race against Scott D’Amboise, of Lisbon Falls, and Andrew Ian Dodge, of Harpswell.

She said the candidates would do well to pay attention to Maine, in case the race for the 1,144 delegates needed for the nomination stays close.

Amy Walter, ABC News’ political director and a graduate of Colby College in Waterville, said the national media will cover the Maine result, but she questioned how much effect the outcome will have nationally.

Walter said Maine’s contest is one of several lower-profile caucuses and primaries in a relatively quiet month before the “Super Tuesday” primaries March 6.

Nevada is scheduled to hold caucuses on Saturday, followed by Colorado and Minnesota on Tuesday.

“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 said.

Scott Rasmussen, an independent national pollster, said a Paul win in Maine “would create a flurry of interest … but nothing more than that.” If Romney adds Maine to a list of wins in February, he said, it’s just “part of a larger story.”

Ryan Williams, a Romney spokesman, said the campaign opened an office in Portland on Monday with a full-time staffer and several volunteers, and is lining up surrogates to visit caucus events around the state; but the campaign isn’t saying yet whether Romney will visit Maine.

Paul drew big crowds during a two-day swing through the state last weekend, including a stop at Colby College, and he has had a campaign office in Falmouth since Dec. 15. A Paul campaign spokesman did not return phone calls this week.

Despite Paul’s push in Maine, Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, said, “The better Romney does in the states leading up to Maine, the less attention Maine is going to get.”

Gonzales said, “Maine could get some attention because it’s on an island in the middle of February, but I don’t think it’s going to profoundly change the trajectory of the race.”

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

[email protected]

Twitter: MaineTodayDC


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