AUGUSTA, Maine — Mitt Romney coasted to a win in presidential preference voting by Maine Republicans on Saturday, claiming his third victory in a caucus state and fourth overall.
The former Massachusetts governor had 52 percent of the vote with 68 percent of the towns holding caucuses reporting. John McCain trailed with 21 percent, Ron Paul was third with 19 percent, and Mike Huckabee had 6 percent. Undecided votes accounted for 2 percent.
The nonbinding votes, the first step toward electing 18 Maine delegates to the Republican National Convention, took place in public schools, Grange halls, fire stations and town halls across the state.
The Associated Press uses presidential preferences expressed in those caucuses to project the number of national convention delegates each candidate will have when they are chosen at Maine's state convention, calculating that Romney will wind up with all 18 delegates when all is said and done.
Campaigning in Minnesota, Romney noted that his victory in Maine came despite McCain's endorsement by the state's two U.S. senators.
"The people of Maine joined those from across the nation in casting their vote for conservative change in Washington ... Like many Americans, the people of Maine are tired of Washington promises made but broken," Romney said in a statement.
The fight for delegate support in Maine came just ahead of Super Tuesday, giving candidates a chance to build momentum for the upcoming contests in more than 20 states.
Most of Maine's caucuses were held Saturday but a scattering of towns will hold theirs Sunday and later in the month. Party leaders were delighted with the heavy turnout, which they said was driven by the most hotly contested race in two decades.
Besides Paul, who visited Maine on Monday, Romney was the only candidate to show up or send a surrogate to campaign as the caucuses drew close. His oldest son Tagg campaigned Friday and appeared at caucuses Saturday.
Romney has also won in the caucus states of Nevada and Wyoming, and finished first in Michigan's primary.
Kim Pettengill, a party activist for more than three decades, said Saturday's was the largest Kennebec County caucus turnout since 1980, the year Ronald Reagan won his first GOP nomination for president.
Party Executive Director Julie O'Brien said other counties reported similarly heavy turnouts.
Overall, the AP tracks the delegate races by projecting the number of national convention delegates won by candidates in each presidential primary or caucus, based on state and national party rules, and by interviewing unpledged delegates to obtain their preferences.
In some states, like Iowa, Maine and Nevada, local precinct caucuses are the first stage in the allocation process. The AP uses preferences expressed in those caucuses to project the number of national convention delegates each candidate will have when they are chosen at county, congressional district or state conventions.
The Maine Democrats hold their presidential preference votes at municipal caucuses on Feb. 10.
Associated Press Writer David Sharp in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.