Presidential Race
5:52 am
Sun March 4, 2012

Mitt Romney Tops Washington Caucuses

Originally published on Mon March 5, 2012 10:03 am

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pulled ahead of his rivals in Washington State's presidential straw poll on Saturday, with more than one-third of the votes. Romney finished well ahead of Ron Paul, who himself squeaked past Rick Santorum by just over 500 votes. Newt Gingrich had to settle for about one vote in 10.

Turnout at the caucuses was huge, about four times the number of people who participated in 2008. Robert and Debbie Rudd came to the caucuses held at a Christian school north of Seattle; it was their first time.

"It's really important to get it right this year," Debbie Rudd said.

Her husband agreed.

"The country's just going in the ... complete wrong direction," he said. "That's obvious."

The Rudds came to support Romney, but inside the school, some longstanding Republicans were a bit stunned by the influx of people who wouldn't usually consider themselves Republicans.

Many of the newcomers were there for Paul, but Romney supporter Eric Earling said he wasn't concerned.

"I think it's a Republican caucus, and everybody who wants to self-identify as a Republican is welcome," he said.

Leading up to the vote, the Romney campaign had reason for confidence. In the more densely populated western side of Washington state, Republicans focus more on fiscal issues, while east of the Cascades, Republican politics is more about social conservatism and libertarianism. That translated into a tug-of-war there between Santorum and Paul.

Paul was the one candidate who stayed in Washington for caucus day. In Seattle, he delivered his standard stump speech.

"You know, what we have to do is not all that complicated," he said. "What we have to do is just get the people in Washington to follow the Constitution, and we'd solve all our problems."

He insisted that he had reason to celebrate, since the Washington straw poll is nonbinding. The process that actually awards delegates to the national convention is more drawn out, and that's where Paul believes he's gaining ground.

"The good news is we're doing very, very well in getting delegates," he said.

Lately, Paul has focused on caucus states where his people can get involved in the various stages of picking delegates. If his strategy works, by summer, he may end up with more delegates than this straw poll would indicate.

Still, the straw poll was the prize Saturday, and it went to Romney — along with a dose of that elusive magic known as "momentum."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

RACHEL MARTIN: This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Rachel Martin.

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, fresh off wins in Arizona and Michigan, won Washington state's presidential straw poll yesterday. He got more than a third of the votes, well ahead of Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, who placed second and third respectively. Newt Gingrich had to settle for about one vote in 10, coming in fourth place.

In a moment, we'll get a preview of Super Tuesday, the day of voting that could determine which Republican candidate will face President Barack Obama in the fall.

But first, NPR's Martin Kaste has more on the results in Washington state.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The turnout at yesterday's caucuses was huge, about four times the number of people who participated in 2008. Robert and Debbie Rudd came to the caucuses held at a Christian school north of Seattle, and it was their first time.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

DEBBIE RUDD: It's really important to get it right this year.

ROBERT RUDD: Yeah, this country's just going in the wrong - complete - I mean complete wrong direction. That's obvious.

KASTE: The Rudds came to support Romney.

(SOUNDBITE OF A CROWD)

KASTE: But inside the school, some longstanding republicans were a bit stunned by the influx of people who wouldn't usually consider themselves Republicans.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: So make your vote count and vote for Dr. Ron Paul. Woo. (Singing) Yeah-hey. Yeah. Yeah.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Dr. Paul. (Singing) Hey-hey. Come on, y'all. Woo. All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Come in.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)

KASTE: A lot of the new-comers were there for Ron Paul, but Romney supporter Eric Earling said he wasn't concerned.

ERIC EARLING: You know, I think it's a Republican caucus, and everybody who wants to self-identify as a Republican is welcome.

KASTE: The Romney campaign had reason for confidence. In the more densely populated western side of Washington state, Republicans tend to focus more on fiscal issues. While east of the Cascades, Republican politics is more about social conservatism and libertarianism, and that translated into a tug-of-war there between Rick Santorum and Ron Paul.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD CHANTING, PRESIDENT RON PAUL)

KASTE: Ron Paul was the one candidate who stayed in Washington for caucus day. In Seattle, he delivered his standard stump speech.

RON PAUL: You know, what we have to do is not all that complicated. What we need to do is just get the people in Washington to follow the Constitution and we'd solve all our problems.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KASTE: And he insisted that he had reason to celebrate. The Washington straw poll is non-binding. The process that actually awards delegates to the national convention is more drawn out, and that's where Paul believes he's gaining ground.

PAUL: The good news is that we're doing very, very well in getting delegates.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KASTE: Lately, Paul has focused on caucus states where his people can get involved in the various stages of picking delegates. Still, the straw poll was the prize yesterday, and it went to Romney - along with a dose of that elusive magic known as momentum.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.