The Republican Party's race to find a challenger to U.S. President Barack Obama in November's election got somewhat clearer Saturday when the frontrunner, Mitt Romney, scored two victories.
The first came in a symbolic vote at an annual convention of conservative Republican activists (CPAC) in Washington where Romney won 38 percent of the vote. Later in the day, the former Massachusetts governor won the Maine caucuses, getting 39 percent of the votes there.
In the CPAC vote, former senator Rick Santorum, coming off Tuesday's victories in contests in three states to the west (Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado), got 31 percent.
In Maine, Romney faced a challenge from Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who has yet to win any of the previous Republican party contests but who had hoped to score one in that far northeastern state. Both men spent time campaigning in Maine, whose caucuses, like the CPAC balloting, are considered a straw vote that is non-binding.
So far Romney has won the votes in New Hampshire, Florida and Nevada. He lost to former House of Representatives Speaker Newt Gingrich in South Carolina and to Santorum, who won the first contest in January in Iowa.
Tuesday's losses to social conservative Santorum highlighted Romney's struggle to gain the support of the conservative Republican base. On Friday, he sought to change that by calling himself "severely conservative" in a speech at the CPAC meeting.
The Republican presidential contenders face primaries later this month (February 28) in Arizona and Michigan, the state where Romney was born and raised.
Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.