By GLENN ADAMS
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul has a couple of things going for him at this weekend's Republican caucuses: a band of highly motivated supporters and a natural appeal to Maine's like-minded independents.
His stop in the state earlier this week also made him the only presidential contender from either party to visit before the caucuses.
"I think that (because) he's paid attention to Maine, he'll be rewarded," R. Kenneth Lindell, Paul's campaign coordinator in Maine, said Thursday.
Maine's GOP polling Friday, Saturday and Sunday may be the Texas congressman's best shot at winning a state, and such a feat would be big coming just days before next week's Super Tuesday presidential preference contests in more than 20 states.
Lindell wouldn't get into specifics about the number of volunteers Paul has in the state, except to say they number in the hundreds — not a small figure considering Maine's relatively small population and meager share of the national delegate pool.
Paul has drawn a mix of young voters who are getting involved in politics for the first time, longtime Republicans with libertarian leanings or who are unhappy with the direction the party's been going and independents who've left the party, Lindell said.
Maine Republicans are holding the only presidential preference event this weekend. Maine Democrats will gather the following weekend.
The nonbinding Republican caucuses are the first step toward electing Maine's 18 delegates to the party's national convention. Three ranking party leaders also go. Maine awards all of its delegates to the caucus winners.
As for Paul's prospects, he can take heart that Mainers tend to march to their own drummer.
In 1992, H. Ross Perot delivered a shocker in Maine, beating out Kennebunkport's George H.W. Bush to come in second behind Bill Clinton. And that came after former California Gov. Jerry Brown donned a plaid shirt while campaigning in Maine to beat Clinton in the Democratic caucuses.
Unenrolled or independent voters can play an important role in Maine politics, since they make up the largest bloc of voters. The law allows independents to come in the day of the caucus and register with a party.
"If we have a good showing here in Maine, that could carry forward into Super Tuesday when we could pick up delegates," Lindell said. That would be significant in the case of a brokered convention, he said.
Julie O'Brien, executive director of the state Republican Party, said Paul supporters have been resourceful in finding opportunities for support, for example, organizing caucuses in towns where none had been scheduled.
"I have felt strongly for three weeks that he stood a better chance (in Maine) than any other candidate," O'Brien said. But her view has eased slightly now that Arizona Sen. John McCain won in Florida and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani is no longer in the running.
Also, Maine GOP efforts to encourage general caucus participation could send more supporters for McCain and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to the polls, she noted.
Mark Brewer, who teaches political sciene at the University of Maine, doesn't see Paul as a favorite but added that the congressman's best chances are in caucus states like Maine. Paul finished second in the Nevada caucuses on Jan. 19.
"I wouldn't be completely stunned if Ron Paul won the caucuses" in Maine, Brewer said.