He claimed victories in Maine and in a conservative straw poll in the last day of voting for more than two weeks.
WASHINGTON - Mitt Romney won the support of those attending Republican presidential caucuses in Maine on Saturday, a key victory the former Massachusetts governor hopes will help him regain momentum after defeats in three nominating contests.
Romney's superior organization and advantage with endorsements of top state Republicans had given him a significant edge in the low-turnout and nonbinding affair. But Rep. Ron Paul had aggressively worked the state's grass roots in hopes of snagging his first win of the presidential primary season.
Romney won 39 percent of the votes of those who took part in a presidential poll at Maine caucus sites, while Paul took 36 percent, former Sen. Rick Santorum captured 18 percent and former Speaker Newt Gingrich won 6 percent.
The tiny Maine race -- fewer than 5,600 votes were cast -- had taken on increased importance in recent days as Romney struggled to put his campaign back on track after losing to Santorum in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado on Tuesday.
Maine was Romney's only chance to reset the race's narrative for more than two weeks. Republicans will not vote again until the critically important primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Feb. 28, followed by Super Tuesday on March 6, when 10 states will hold elections.
The Maine win came as Romney also won a straw poll of activists attending the Conservative Political Action Conference on Saturday, a key annual gathering of right-leaning Republican activists concluding Saturday in Washington.
Taken together, the dual wins form a major boost for Romney, who had faced tough questions in the past week about whether his campaign can excite the conservative base of the Republican Party.
At the straw poll, Romney won 38 percent of the 3,408 votes cast, giving him a healthy cushion over Santorum's 31 percent. Gingrich won 15 percent, Paul took 12 percent.
Romney said the voters of Maine "sent a clear message that it is past time to send an outsider to the White House."
But Romney's good day is unlikely to put to rest continued questions from the right wing of the party about his candidacy.
Top conservative activist Richard Viguerie scoffed Saturday at Romney's description of his tenure as Massachusetts governor as "severely conservative" in a Friday speech to CPAC in which Romney used variations of the word "conservative" to describe himself or his policies 24 times. Viguerie insisted that in 50 years of work in Republican politics, he'd never heard Romney described that way.
For both Romney and Paul, there had in some ways been more to lose in Maine than to win, a straw poll that is nonbinding but could mirror the results of the state's process for awarding its 24 delegates.
Romney could ill afford a fourth consecutive loss. For Paul, failing to pull off a win in a state with an independent-minded electorate that might be inclined to embrace his libertarian policies will probably be seen as confirmation that Paul can never serve as a threat to the race's front-runners.
"Just remember, the revolution is only beginning," Paul told about 300 supporters at a Portland hotel, saying the results were close enough that it's "almost like we could call it a tie."