Mitt Romney is looking to overcome his struggle to win his party's skeptical conservative wing and avoid a fourth consecutive defeat at the polls on the path to the Republican presidential nomination Saturday in Maine.
The Maine election comes at a critical time in Romney's quest to become the party nominee who will take on President Barack Obama, instead of merely the frontrunner in the state-by-state race. Maine officials will announce a winner Saturday evening, a day after the former Massachusetts governor delivered a high-profile Washington address in which he described himself as "a severely conservative Republican governor."
The speech represented a full-throated insistence that he is conservative in both record and background, a message he sought to send as he worked to convince the party's skeptical right flank that he is acceptable as the party's nominee.
"My path to conservatism came from my family, from my faith and from my life's work," Romney said.
He's working to gain trust from the activists who make up the Republican base and who drive the Republican primary contest. They view him skeptically because of his past shifts on a variety of issues, including his previous support for abortion rights.
Conservatives generally view Romney's chief rivals former Sen Rick Santorum and former House of Representatives speaker Newt Gingrich as having views more in line with them. This week, Santorum won contests in Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado. Romney all but ignored Santorum ahead of this week's contests.
Romney has yet to win a majority of Republican votes in any of the contests he's won so far. And he's looking to emerge strongly from the March 6 battle known as Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold nominating contests.
Romney's conservative opposition remains divided Gingrich has won one state and Santorum four. But Santorum is suddenly threatening Romney's dominance in states where his team had previously felt comfortable.
Romney has stepped up efforts to court Maine's Republicans in recent days, reflecting growing concern over feisty Republican rival Ron Paul in what has essentially become a two-man race in Maine. Neither Gingrich nor Santorum are actively competing in the New England state.
The narrative coming out of Maine will likely reverberate in the political echo chamber for weeks, given there isn't another election until Arizona and Michigan host their contests Feb. 28. Romney hopes that narrative will be more positive than it has been over the last week, arguably his worst of the year.
Paul is fighting to prove he is capable of winning at all, particularly in a state where his campaign has focused considerable attention in recent weeks. The libertarian-minded Texas congressman has scored a handful of top three finishes in other early voting states, but his strategy is based on winning some of the smaller caucus contests where his passionate base of support can have an oversized impact.
There is no reliable polling to gauge the state of the Maine election, which drew fewer than 5,500 voters from across the state four years ago. But Romney's recent activities suggest a win is by no means assured, despite the natural advantages of being a former New England governor competing in a state he won with more than 50 percent of the vote four years ago.
The Maine caucuses began Feb. 4 and will largely conclude Saturday, when the state party will announce the results of the nonbinding presidential straw poll. The contest has drawn virtually none of the hype surrounding recent elections in places like Florida and Nevada, where candidates poured millions of dollars into television and radio advertising.
Romney's team is preparing an aggressive push against Santorum in Michigan, the state where the former governor was born and where Romney is a household name and where his advisers had hoped for an easy victory. Romney's father, George, served as governor of Michigan and chairman of American Motor Corp. before mounting a failed bid for president in 1968.