Washington state caucus a momentum test for Romney

BELLEVUE, Washington Sat Mar 3, 2012 5:30pm EST

1 of 2. Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney speaks at a town hall meeting campaign stop at US Aeroteam in Dayton, Ohio March 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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BELLEVUE, Washington (Reuters) - Turnout was heavy at the Washington state Republican caucuses on Saturday as Mitt Romney took an early lead in the non-binding straw poll he hopes will propel his campaign to a strong showing on Super Tuesday.

Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the state Republican Party, said voter turnout would probably exceed early estimates of 50,000, versus about 13,800 in 2008.

With less than 4,000 votes counted from lightly populated counties in rural eastern Washington, Romney was ahead with 31.5 percent of the vote to Texas Congressman Ron Paul's 26.9 percent and former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum's 24.4 percent, according to figures released by Wilbur. Republicans are seeking a nominee to challenge President Barack Obama in the November 6 election.

Washington usually holds both a caucus and a primary to allocate its delegates, but the state government this year canceled the primary to save money.

The timing of the caucus, three days before 10 states vote in crucial Super Tuesday contests, has briefly made Washington state the focus of national politics and motivated many voters, Wilbur said.

Polling going into the vote showed Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, with a narrow lead over Santorum. But libertarian Paul could also do well in the state, given an active ground operation and legions of committed supporters.

As others turned their attention to Super Tuesday states such as Ohio and Georgia, Paul made three stops in Washington state on Friday, finishing with a rally for about 1,000 backers in downtown Seattle. Paul also visited a caucus site in Puyallup, south of Seattle, on Saturday.

An overflow crowd was on hand in the gymnasium at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue, where 61 caucuses were pooled together.

"We had at least twice as many people as we normally do, and a thoughtful and respectful discussion of the candidates," said caucus organizer Diane Tebelius, former chair of the state Party.

Caucus-goer Cynthia Cole, 58, said she voted for Santorum. "He's consistent, he's got a good moral base and he doesn't put his finger up to see which way the wind is blowing," Cole said. "Romney has done too many flips."

Stacey Price, 46, backed Romney as an experienced businessman who was financially savvy and best equipped to tackle economic problems like unemployment and the federal deficit.

(Reporting By Ros Krasny; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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Comments (3)
ran3301 wrote:
I think Romney has a better chance of unseating Obama, so I hope he wins. A lame-duck Obama would be scary. He already wants us to pay for other people’s contraceptives, what else can he take out of my paycheck? Sky’s the limit I guess

Mar 03, 2012 4:51pm EST  --  Report as abuse
SanPa wrote:
No!! Washington is not a test of momentum. Washington State is a survey of conservative versus the more liberal Republican voter populations. OH may well go for Santorum on Tuesday, as the GOP base in that state is more conservative.

Mar 03, 2012 7:09pm EST  --  Report as abuse
billybreathe5 wrote:
Romney and Santorum cannot defeat Obama in November. Santorum has ZERO chance of winning over disaffected democrats, though Romney has a slight chance. Romney’s conservative credentials are meager at best. Paul, the most fiscally conservative of the bunch, is the only one who can win over both a large contingent of democrats and independents to potentially win in November (and of course those who will vote anybody-but-Obama). Not to mention that Paul’s supporters are voting for him “Ron Paul or none at all.” The GOP is shooting itself right in the foot by not nominating him. You wait and see what happens if he isn’t; Mitt, Rick, and Newt are the conductors on the train to defeat come november

Mar 03, 2012 7:51pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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