Who'll Win in Washington State? It's Anybody's Guess

Who'll Win in Washington State? It's Anybody's Guess

By Scott Conroy - March 2, 2012

In a Republican primary race that has been defined by its volatility, any attempt to ascertain what will happen at Saturday's caucuses in Washington state is likely a futile endeavor.

"From where I'm sitting, there's no way of predicting how it's going to come out," said independent Washington pollster Stuart Elway. "They're talking about 50,000 to 100,000 people participating, and you can’t poll them. We don’t even register by party in Washington state, so all you have to do to participate is show up and say, ‘I’m a Republican.’ So it’s beyond a needle in a haystack to try to poll.”

Public Policy Polling (PPP) has taken on that unenviable task over the last couple of weeks and found a wild swing of momentum from Rick Santorum to Mitt Romney.

In mid-February, PPP found Santorum ahead by 11 points but showed Romney leading by five in a new poll released Friday.

Forty delegates will be awarded in Washington through a drawn-out process beginning with Saturday’s nonbinding straw poll, which takes place at caucus sites statewide between 10 a.m. and noon.

But GOP delegates will not be bound to a particular candidate based on those results and can change their minds after advancing to county caucuses later in the year.

As a western state with a relatively high percentage of moderate Republicans and likely caucus-goers who share Romney’s Mormon faith, Washington carries several calling cards that suggest it is his territory.

The former Massachusetts governor visited the state on Friday, appearing alongside former state senator and perennial statewide Republican candidate Dino Rossi, but neither his campaign nor his super PAC, Restore Our Future, has advertised in Washington, an indication that such an expenditure is not a top priority for the campaign.

Washington’s status as a nonbinding caucus state means that its most significant role likely will be as a momentum-generator heading into Super Tuesday’s 10 contests.

It could provide a substantial boost in that regard for Santorum, if the former Pennsylvania senator pulls off the upset.

Santorum campaigned in Washington on Thursday, but with little organization there he is relying on his grass-roots support to push him over the top. Newt Gingrich, meanwhile, has little discernible presence in the state.

All registered voters are able to participate in the caucuses -- an inclusiveness that might benefit Ron Paul, who has campaigned vigorously in the state and is the only candidate who has aired advertisements there.

“In theory, Ron Paul’s going to do very well because he has an organization out here,” said Washington Republican Party Communications Director Josh Amato. “He’s been out here identifying voters for six months.”

But Washington’s caucuses may be especially fickle this year, which will be the first time they are held without an additional primary at a later date.

About the only thing that appears all but certain is that the 2012 Washington caucuses will see record turnout, since this is the first time that the event has received much attention at all from Republican candidates. 

Scott Conroy is a national political reporter for RealClearPolitics. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @RealClearScott.

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