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Mitt Romney Tops Washington Caucuses
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Mitt Romney Tops Washington Caucuses

Presidential Race

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.


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.


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.


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




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.


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.


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.


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.

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