WESTBROOK – Eighty-six-year-old Fred Collins got to his feet Sunday afternoon and urged about 30 of his neighbors to support Rep. Ron Paul of Texas for president.
“He’s the only one I’m hearing in Washington standing up for the Constitution,” Collins said.
Collins was one of a group of Paul supporters, both old and young, who came out for their candidate and dominated this city’s Republican presidential caucus Sunday. The 90-minute Westbrook meeting — one of many that took place around the state Sunday — clearly showed why the energized and well-organized Paul campaign is seen as the biggest threat to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s hopes for winning the support of Maine’s Republicans.
“The first time I heard (Paul) talk, he struck me as different from the other politicians,” said Ron Ho, 19, a University of Maine student and Paul supporter.
It won’t be known for certain until Saturday who got the most votes at the Westbrook caucus, but half of the 30 or so voters who attended openly supported Paul. They frustrated some other attendees by objecting to the process, introducing motions and ultimately choosing a Paul supporter to be Westbrook’s delegation chairman. The chairman gets to select who will fill open seats to attend the state nominating convention in May.
“Your guy can’t win,” Kevin Crocker said from the back of the audience. “He can’t beat Obama and now you’re trying to hijack what we’re doing here.”
Crocker said later he ended up supporting Romney. “I think Romney can win. I want Obama out of there.”
Unlike voters in states that have traditional ballot-box primaries, Maine Republicans are gathering in small meetings — or caucuses — across the state this week. Activists sit in school cafeterias and fire houses, make speeches about the candidates and choose which man they hope will challenge President Obama in the November election.
The caucuses began Saturday and will end next Saturday, when party leaders will announce who came out on top. The caucuses are non-binding, although the state’s delegates to the Republican National Convention generally follow the wishes of party membership.
Party leaders have said the contest for Maine’s delegates appears to be between Romney and Paul.
In 2008, Romney won the Westbrook caucus and Paul was second. Sen. John McCain of Arizona came in third here, although he eventually won the Maine caucuses overall and became the GOP candidate.
Paul, who has yet to win a state’s primary or caucuses, visited Maine for two days in late January.
Romney hasn’t visited Maine this primary season, although family members have come on his behalf. He also is well known here from past campaigns and as a former governor of Massachusetts.
Newt Gingrich and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania have not focused on the state with organized campaigns.
The aggressive and organized Paul support was unusual for the city’s caucuses, Westbrook Republican Committee Chairwoman Rose Marie Russell said after the meeting.
“I really didn’t expect the fervor,” she said.
Several Paul backers from other towns and from New Hampshire circulated before and during the meeting to rally support.
Westbrook’s meeting began with speeches on behalf of Romney, Gingrich and Paul. No one spoke on behalf of Santorum.
Sen. Garrett Mason, R-Lisbon Falls, urged attendees to support Romney. Romney is the most prepared to create jobs and remove “the stranglehold that union bosses have on America’s ingenuity and progress,” Mason said. He also said Romney is the candidate most able to defeat Obama in the fall.
Jake Stoddard of Buxton urged support for former House Speaker Gingrich.
“We’ve got to have results and Washington is not the easiest place to get stuff done. Speaker Gingrich has done it before,” he said.
Matthew Maloney, a former City Council candidate in Westbrook, spoke for Paul. He later was elected chairman of the city’s delegation to the state convention.
“(Paul) is a true champion of the Constitution” who will defend the Second Amendment right to own guns and support national defense and a balanced budget, he said.
The meeting included speakers in support of Republican candidates for state offices and for Congress, including Sen. Olympia Snowe, who is facing a primary challenge from a conservative candidate, Scott D’Amboise.
Tom Major attended the meeting to collect signatures on a Snowe nominating petition, but he didn’t get many after a Paul supporter urged others not to sign.
“I don’t object to that,” Major said. “I was kind of surprised by it.”
Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 620-7016 or at: