March 4, 2012 in City

Romney takes caucuses handily

Vote nonbinding, but may supply lift for Super Tuesday
By The Spokesman-Review

Romney 37%
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Caucus results

Get the statewide and county-by-county breakdown on our 2012 Washington Republican caucus results page.

Spokane County results

1. Romney, 1,521

2. Santorum, 1,511

3. Paul, 1,340

4. Gingrich, 411

5. Undecided, 273

6. Write-ins

Idaho’s next

Washington’s GOP caucuses are over, but Idaho’s GOP county caucuses, which are at 7 p.m. Tuesday, will bring more candidates back to the Inland Northwest. Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will be at the Coeur d’Alene Resort at 5:15 p.m. Monday for a “meet and greet” on behalf of Mitt Romney. Ron Paul will hold two town hall meetings Monday, at the Bonner County Fairgrounds in Sandpoint at noon and the University of Idaho’s Kibbie Dome at 3 p.m. All three events are free and open to the public.

Mitt Romney gained a symbolic victory in Washington on Saturday, pulling down the most votes at the state’s Republican precinct caucuses.

Symbolic in the sense that he can claim another win heading into this week’s Super Tuesday contests.

Symbolic in the sense that he captured a plurality, but nowhere near a majority of votes in the statewide poll. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum each had about a fourth of the votes statewide.

In Spokane County, the final tallies were even closer: Romney 1,521, Santorum 1,511 and Paul 1,340. Paul wound up on top in close races in Pend Oreille, Stevens, Ferry and Whitman counties. Santorum edged to the top in Lincoln County.

Symbolic in the sense that he didn’t win any delegates needed for the GOP presidential nomination. The straw poll is an indication of support the candidates have among Republicans attending caucuses around the state, but it’s nonbinding.

But a win is a win, as any politician will tell you, and Romney had a 12-point lead over Paul and a 13-point lead over Santorum late Saturday night as the statewide count continued. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was a distant fourth statewide and in Eastern Washington counties.

“We’re just building momentum for Mitt Romney’s candidacy. They believe he’s the one that can win the presidency,” said an elated Cathy McMorris Rodgers. The Spokane congresswoman, who serves as state chairwoman for the Romney campaign, attended her local precinct caucus and thought it was “buzzing with enthusiasm.”

The caucuses, held throughout the state in school auditoriums, community centers, church halls and living rooms, drew a record attendance, Kirby Wilbur, state Republican chairman, said. He estimated some 50,000 people came to the meetings, almost four times the 14,000 that attended in 2008.

This year’s caucuses were helped by several factors. First, the race is still up for grabs; in some past years, the nominee was either already chosen or the front-runner had the nomination all but sewn up.

Second, all four candidates made stops in Washington. That’s never happened for a Republican caucus, Wilbur said.

Paul made two trips to Spokane, including one on Friday, and Santorum was in the Spokane Valley on Thursday and North Idaho in February. Romney didn’t make a stop in Eastern Washington, but he did visit Bellevue last week.

Third, the Washington caucuses got unusual attention from local and national news media. All of that helped build interest and excitement, Wilbur said.

Finally, the state canceled its presidential primary, which had been used to award at least some delegates in previous elections. If Republicans wanted to have a say in the selection of a nominee, they had to go to a caucus.

Paul may have been the most organized, building on support he had in the 2008 election when he finished well around the state and his supporters took over the Spokane County GOP convention. But Romney may have experienced a surge in support that coincided with the growing excitement and attention.

McMorris Rodgers said she hopes the party can avoid some of the divisions that developed four years ago between the Paul supporters and the coalition of activists who linked up after starting out for John McCain, Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee.

“I hope that we can start unifying behind our nominee and start building that enthusiasm,” she said. “I did not sense some of the division of four years ago.”

There are 26 comments on this story. Click here to view comments >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email