(CNN) - Republican Mitt Romney had an early lead in Maine's GOP caucuses as the first returns were counted Saturday, with the state party reporting unusually heavy turnout.
The former Massachusetts governor had 52 percent of the vote with 68 percent of caucuses reporting their final tally. John McCain followed with 21 percent, Ron Paul with 19 percent, and Mike Huckabee with 6 percent.
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The non-binding votes are the first step toward electing 18 Maine delegates to the party's national convention this August.
Republican caucuses were being held between Friday and Sunday, with most on Saturday. The state's Democrats will hold their presidential preference votes at caucuses on February 10.
(Results updated 9:34 p.m. ET)
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(CNN) – Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, became the latest member of the high-profile clan to weigh in on the presidential race Saturday, announcing her support for Democrat Barack Obama.
In a statement released by the campaign, she compared Obama to her late husband. “Over these past few years, I’ve watched Sen. Obama inspire Americans from all walks of life to believe in real change and a new sense of hope and possibility. He’s a magnetic force, drawing the nation together for the common good and galvanizing us all to help shape our country’s future.
“Barack is so like Bobby, who struggled for the rights of the poor in the Mississippi Delta and Appalachia, traveled to California to stand in solidarity with Cesar Chavez and farm workers, and fought to end another war that cost so many lives.
“Today, we crave a leader with vision who can help us regain our lost humanity and rekindle our inherent generosity. With courage, caring, and charisma, Senator Obama is leading us toward a kinder, gentler world."
Obama said he was "humbled" to learn of Ethel Kennedy's decision.
This presidential campaign cycle has seen a split in the Kennedy family, many of whom generally avoid weighing in on political contests. Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy, Rhode Island Rep. Patrick Kennedy and former First Daughter Caroline Kennedy all endorsed Obama at a campaign rally earlier this week, and are actively stumping for the Illinois senator. Ethel Kennedy's children Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and Kathleen Kennedy Townsend have both publicly backed Hillary Clinton.
–CNN's Suzanne Malveaux and Matt Hoye contributed to this report
(CNN) - With just a few days to go before the critical Super Tuesday primaries, Black Eyed Peas' frontman will.i.am and director Jesse Dylan, son of legendary musician Bob Dylan, have released a new song featuring a host of celebrities and one very unlikely music video star: Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
"Yes We Can," released Friday, is centered around footage of the speech the Illinois senator gave after the New Hampshire primary last month.
The music video includes excerpts from that Obama speech and appearances from celebrities including jazz artist Herbie Hancock, former LA Lakers captain Kareem Abdul Jabbar, singer John Legend, model Amber Valletta, actresses Kate Walsh and Scarlett Johansson, and others.
(In an interview with the Associated Press last month, Johansson had joked that she was engaged to the White House hopeful, telling a reporter: “My heart belongs to Barack.”)
Dylan and will.i.am told ABC News they did not coordinate the creation or release of the video with the Obama campaign, and are unsure Obama knows about the production.
(CNN) – In the run-up to Super Tuesday, former President Bill Clinton is planning a tour of African-American churches this Sunday in Los Angeles. A prominent elected official who will be joining him has described it as Clinton’s 'mea culpa tour' to the black community.
The former president set off a firestorm of criticism for comments he made during the South Carolina primary, comments which were widely interpreted as racially insensitive. He’s adamantly denied he was playing racial politics. Exit polls show President Clinton’s seemingly aggressive campaigning may have contributed to the stunning defeat his wife Hillary Clinton suffered in the primary there.
According to CNN exit polling, a majority of South Carolina voters said Bill Clinton’s campaigning was important to their vote - 48 percent of them cast ballots for Barack Obama, while 37percent went for Sen. Clinton. And CNN has reported some of the former president’s controversial remarks on the trail may have contributed to Sen. Ted Kennedy’s decision to endorse Sen. Obama.
President Clinton’s tour of African-American churches comes as the Clinton campaign fights to win a coveted prize on Super Tuesday – delegate-rich California – where African-Americans make up 7 percent of Democratic primary voters.
“They need to go touch the people like they did before. The bickering they got in in South Carolina must be put aside,” one of the officials who plans to join the former president on Sunday tells CNN. The official spoke on background until the campaign officially announces the planned trip. “Bill is going to have to come back among those who loved him and he did so much for. He is going to have to do it – I can’t do it for him – and face the voters,” the source continued, adding that once he does, “it’ll put him back in the comfort zone, and I think you’ll see [Hillary Clinton’s] numbers go up.”
A spokesperson for the Clinton campaign in California disputes the notion the stops are intended to make amends with the black community before the state’s voters head to the polls this Tuesday. “He’s very popular with Latinos, African-Americans, it’s absolutely not a mea culpa tour,” says Clinton California spokesperson Luis Vizcaino.
SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (CNN) – Mitt Romney took a break from campaigning on Saturday to attend the funeral of Gordon B. Hinckley, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, more commonly referred to as the Mormon Church.
The campaign stressed that this was a personal trip, and that Romney would not be actively campaigning while in Utah. He did, however, spend part of the morning doing satellite interviews with TV stations in several Super Tuesday states.
Romney was joined at the funeral by wife Ann and two of their five sons, Josh and Matt. Seated around Romney near Hinckley’s casket were fellow Mormon dignitaries Secretary of Health and Human Services Mike Leavitt, and Republican Sens. Gordon Smith of Oregon, Orrin Hatch and Bob Bennett of Utah and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada. A message from President and Laura Bush was read, but neither Romney nor the other politicians had a role in the service.
When asked Friday why it was important for him to leave the campaign trail to attend Hinckley’s funeral, Romney responded, “He’s a man I respect a great deal, and I want to pay my respects to his family and acknowledge the importance of his life in my own life.”
HUNTSVILLE, Alabama (CNN) - White House hopeful Mike Huckabee denied the Republican presidential race had narrowed to two candidates, Mitt Romney and John McCain, telling journalists at an Alabama campaign stop Saturday that “if anybody ought to be quitting, it's Mitt Romney.”
“John McCain hasn't suggested I step aside. So if Mitt Romney's going to engage me, which he has, then I feel like the engagement is on,” said the former Arkansas governor.
“…If I'm ahead of him in places like Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee, then he needs to step aside and let me in fact be that conservative alternative than he says we need.”
Romney’s campaign spent much of the early voting season attacking many of his opponents, including Huckabee. And Huckabee has been a fierce critic of the former Massachusetts governor, regularly criticizing him in presidential primary debates and on the campaign trail.
In Huntsville Saturday, Huckabee dismissed the idea that John McCain was an “inevitable” Republican nominee, pointing to the fact that more than 90 percent of the GOP’s delegates were still unspoken for.
Huckabee, who began to focus on Bible Belt states like Alabama while his GOP rivals were still battling for Florida, repeated recent comments that his campaign was setting its sights on a win there. “And frankly, I don't know of anyone that should win it more than me,” he said.
Most recent Alabama polls show Huckabee in second place there, behind John McCain and ahead of Mitt Romney, with just days to go until the state’s February 5 primary vote. The former Baptist minister is continuing his primary season pattern of making many of his campaign stops visits to local churches.
ABOARD THE CNN ELECTION EXPRESS IN HOLLYWOOD, California - “I told Curtis to bring some alcohol.”
There were only three people in the elevator: the woman proclaiming that she had told Curtis to bring the alcohol, another woman who had gotten into the elevator car first, and your correspondent, newly arrived from the Midwest. This was at the Hollywood Roosevelt hotel on Hollywood Boulevard; she certainly couldn’t have been talking to me, for I knew neither her nor Curtis.
I looked at the second woman - the woman who wasn’t doing the talking. She shrugged.
“He’s still at that golf tournament,” the first woman said, loudly. She paused a beat, then laughed uproariously.
The second woman and I exchanged glances again. The telling thing is that by this point we didn’t even have to wonder. We knew that, if we were to look closely, we would find a wire snaking into the first woman’s ear. As high-volume and full of hilarity as she was, she wasn’t talking to either of us - even here, even in a small elevator with two fellow riders, she was carrying on an animated phone conversation with someone not present.
My traveling companions on CNN’s newsroom-on-wheels and I had stopped for the night at this Hollywood hotel in the days before the presidential primary election in California (and throughout the nation). If people are surprised by the depth and fervency of the passions being displayed by citizens, regardless of ideology, during this year’s race for the presidency, perhaps part of that surprise is because the emotions being shown for certain candidates put to the lie something that we have recently taken for granted - something emblemized, in its own small way, by the woman in the elevator.
She had shut us out, automatically. I don’t think she even considered that she might be displaying any rudeness; we, in all the ways that mattered, weren’t even there. She had a list of people who were permitted a place in her life. No one else counted. It wasn’t that there was anything unusual about her attitude - she was utterly contemporary and conventional, a mirror of society’s current-day view of itself, and of the world.
And yet. . . .
(CNN) - Twice in the past two days, former President Bill Clinton has implied Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy bears responsibility for the “No Child Left Behind” school standards, which are deeply unpopular with the Democratic base.
The statements come just days after Kennedy endorsed Hillary Clinton’s primary opponent, Barack Obama.
In Arkansas yesterday, the former president told voters at a campaign stop that President Bush had "made a deal with Sen. Kennedy, and neither one of them meant to mess it up.”
He said that agreement had been to give schools more money but cut or eliminate funding for successful programs he had started during his administration.
Earlier this week in Arizona, Clinton had also linked Kennedy’s name with President Bush’s as he criticized the education measure.
"I want you to think about this, and I have to say, this was a train wreck that was not intended. No Child Left Behind was supported by George Bush and Sen. Ted Kennedy and everybody in between. Why? Because they didn't talk to enough teachers before they did that," said Clinton on Thursday, according to the Associated Press.
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(CNN) – Republican John McCain said Friday that Super Tuesday could mark the finish line of his party’s presidential race this year.
“Do I think the race will be over on Tuesday? Not often do I ask for divine intercession, but I have asked for that. Yes,” he told reporters on a campaign flight to Chicago. Republicans in 21 states will weigh in on Super Tuesday, February 5.
“From what we see in the polls, there is a very good chance it could be over on Tuesday,” said the Arizona senator, adding: “The sooner we get that done, the sooner I can go to work on uniting the party."
Despite his complicated history with the party’s base, he said, pragmatic Republicans will back him when faced with the Democratic alternative.
The senator also dismissed a Drudge Report story that he had met with former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and weighed joining the Democratic Party. McCain told reporters Friday that he had met with Daschle at the Democrat’s request, but had just laughed and reaffirmed his GOP loyalties when asked about the prospect of switching parties.
–CNN’s Tasha Diakides