WASHINGTON — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is taking to the airwaves in Maine in an effort to stave off rival Ron Paul before the state’s caucuses end Saturday and avoid his fourth defeat in a nominating contest in less than a week.

But TV ads aren’t where Romney will win or lose the nonbinding caucuses, which gained a higher profile nationwide after Romney lost to Rick Santorum on Tuesday in Colorado, Minnesota and Missouri, analysts say.

The winner of Maine’s caucuses will be announced Saturday evening at a Maine Republican Party event at the Portland Regency Hotel. The state party has kept secret the results of local caucuses held around the state, leading up to Saturday’s announcement. Caucuses will continue through Saturday.

The race in Maine is believed to come down to Romney against Paul, since neither Santorum nor Newt Gingrich has visited Maine or assembled much of an organization in the state.

Romney will be in Maine today for a rally at 6 p.m. at the Portland Co. Marine Complex. Paul will be in the state Saturday, visiting several caucus sites, his campaign said, without releasing details.

The Romney campaign did not respond to messages Thursday. But Politico reported that the campaign is making a small cable TV buy in Maine, apparently limited to Fox News stations, and a modest radio buy in Portland. The website attributed its information to a media-monitoring source.

With Maine’s caucuses spread out around the state and involving what party officials believe will be 5,000 to 6,000 people, at most, Romney isn’t counting on TV and radio ads to deliver a win, analysts say.

“He made the buy to assure Maine Republicans that he is not taking them for granted,” said Jennifer Duffy, senior editor for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report in Washington. “I’m sure the buy is very targeted to channels/programs that Republicans watch. (But) for caucuses, the hard work is done by phone and social media.”

That kind of organization is illustrated by a tele-town hall meeting Romney conducted Wednesday night with likely Maine GOP caucus voters, answering questions for about a half-hour on topics ranging from health care to the economy to Social Security. His campaign called people and invited them to stay on the line to hear Romney.

Romney reaffirmed his desire to repeal “Obamacare” and give states more power over their Medicaid programs, said his GOP rivals have spent too much of their careers in Washington, and told Mainers on the call that he is the Republican who’s best suited to take on President Obama in the fall.

A main purpose of the call was to ask potential caucus voters to press “1” on their phones if they intended to support Romney, and to press “1” again if they wanted help finding out how to participate in their local caucuses.

Much more than TV, what matters is that Maine is a caucus state with relatively few participants, not a primary state, where many more voters go to the polls, said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Nevada was a caucus state where Romney did dominate the airwaves, but Romney also was aided there by heavy participation by fellow Mormons, Sabato said.

In general, TV ads “just aren’t as influential in caucuses,” he said. “A caucus is all about person-to-person activist contact and organization.”

The Maine caucus event is the first step in selecting the state’s 24 delegates to the Republican National Convention, although three of those delegate slots go automatically to GOP officials. Nationally, 1,144 delegates are needed to capture the GOP presidential nomination.

While caucuses in many of Maine’s 16 counties have been held, caucuses in the heavily populated southern portion of the state, including Cumberland, York and Androsoggin counties, will be held Saturday.

Paul spent two days in Maine in late January, drawing large crowds. Romney’s visit today for a single rally is his first stop in Maine in this campaign. The former Massachusetts governor won the Maine caucuses in 2008, over eventual GOP nominee John McCain and Paul.

“If this were a primary, given Maine’s location in Romney’s strongest region, Romney would probably win,” Sabato said. “But it is a caucus, and we already know Paul has spent a lot of time and effort on the caucuses. Romney needs to spend something and organize to the extent possible, though the hour is late.”

Nathan Gonzales, deputy editor of the nonpartisan Rothenberg Political Report in Washington, noted that while Romney won Florida, and aired a barrage of TV ads, he lost in South Carolina, another primary state where he spent big on TV.

The bottom line for Romney in Maine: Find a way to win, Gonzales said.

“The GOP nomination doesn’t hinge on Maine, but I think Romney will take a win anywhere he can get one right now,” Gonzales said. “Another loss, even in a small state, would add to the narrative that his campaign is struggling.”

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

jriskind@mainetoday.com

Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC