Mitt Romney scored big in the Washington caucuses over the weekend and even though there were no delegates attached to his beauty contest win, the victory was significant. It could prove to be a springboard into tomorrow’s 10-state Super Tuesday contests.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was not that Romney placed first, but that Rick Santorum actually dropped behind Ron Paul to finish third. In mid-February, and before the Michigan and Arizona primaries, Public Policy Polling (Feb. 16-19; 400 likely Washington state GOP caucus attenders) pegged Santorum to a 38-27-15-12 percent lead over Romney, Paul, and Newt Gingrich, respectively.
A day after the Michigan and Arizona results, two states that Romney swept, PPP went back into the Evergreen State and detected a momentum shift. According to that study (Feb. 29-31; 447 likely Washington state GOP caucus attenders), Romney had captured the advantage and led 37-32-16-13 percent over Santorum, Paul, and Gingrich, in that order.
The somewhat surprising conclusion in the March 3 Washington vote that produced record high participation featured Romney scoring a 38-25-24-10 percent win over Paul, Santorum, and Gingrich. Therefore, not only did Santorum drop further down but Rep. Paul finished a full ten points above his polling range.
More than 49,000 people attended the Washington caucuses on Saturday, almost four times higher than the 13,475 individuals who voted in 2008. Across the board in the 13 states that have already hosted nominating events, turnout levels have been mixed.
In seven states (Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Colorado, Maine, Michigan, and Washington), turnout was higher this year than in 2008; substantially so in South Carolina and Washington.
In five states (Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Missouri, and Arizona) turnout was lower; substantially so in Florida and Minnesota. Since the current vote did not carry delegate apportionment, the Missouri primary had little meaning in this election year as opposed to 2008 when it proved to be a deciding factor, thus explaining 2012’s strong Missouri participation downturn. The Arizona ’08 turnout was artificially high because favorite son John McCain was on the ballot. Wyoming did not report vote totals in 2008, only delegate apportionment, so it is impossible to tell if the 2,108 people who attended caucus meetings this year is a larger or smaller group than previous.
Tomorrow, 10 more states will vote representing a cumulative delegate number of 437. So far, not counting Washington or Missouri, since both of those states held beauty contest votes and will assign delegates later in the year at their respective state conventions, 331 delegates have been apportioned. Therefore, the 10 states voting tomorrow will exceed the aggregate number of delegates fought over so far in the 11 earliest voting states.
Romney appears to be a lock in his home state of Massachusetts (41 delegates) and neighboring Vermont (17). He is the prohibitive favorite in Virginia because only he and Rep. Paul qualified for the ballot. Since one of the two candidates will claim a majority of the vote, Virginia transforms into a winner-take-all state meaning the victor, almost assuredly Mr. Romney, will add 49 more delegates to his total.
Polling continues to show Santorum with a slight lead in all-important Ohio (66 delegates), with more substantial margins in Tennessee (58) and Oklahoma (43). Newt Gingrich leads in his home state of Georgia, now featuring the fourth largest Republican contingent of delegates (76) in the country.
The Alaska (27 delegates), Idaho (32), and North Dakota (28) caucuses are difficult to project and could become wild cards. Tomorrow will bring us an exciting and possibly politically transforming night.