Mitt Romney’s modern campaign machine is turning into an old-fashioned get-out-the-vote operation here before this state’s caucuses Saturday.
It’s the first time in a quarter-century that Washington state is holding a caucus only — rather than a caucus and a primary — to choose its candidate in the GOP presidential race. Taking no chances after a close shave in Michigan, Romney and his local apparatus are here to teach supporters how to participate in the big event.
At a Romney rally here Friday, Romney state chair Rep. Cathy McMorris-Rodgers asked attendees if they’d ever been to a caucus. More than two-thirds of those there said no.
“Ok, this is your opportunity to cross that off your bucket list,” she told hundreds of people at a community center.
Most local pols agree that the former Massachusetts governor would easily win a primary, but anything could happen in Saturday’s low-turnout, non-binding caucus. Whether Romney supporters show up on a rainy weekend morning will determine whether he can win his fourth contest in a row just three days before key contests on Super Tuesday. Ron Paul and Rick Santorum are also competing in the caucus and could have a better chance at luring the more driven voters that make up the conservative base.
Paul made three stops in the state on Thursday, including Spokane (which he carried four years ago) and an evening rally in Seattle. In the last week, he’s put an undisclosed sum behind a 60-second advertisement on Fox News and some broadcast outlets in state that argues all three of his rivals are basically the same.
Paul will visit caucus sites Saturday morning and spend election night in Seattle, while Romney and Santorum will be in Ohio.
Paul’s national campaign chairman, Jesse Benton, wouldn’t predict a win for the Texas congressman in Washington’s caucuses, insisting that the campaign cares more about amassing the most delegates at the state convention in June.
“We’ll do well in the beauty contest. I honestly don’t know that we’re going to win,” he said. “Our people are going in very motivated and very trained to become delegates and go all the way through.”
In past cycles, the Evergreen State held a primary and a caucus. After televangelist Pat Robertson stunned sitting Vice President George H.W. Bush in the 1988 Republican caucus, embarrassed party leaders pushed for and got a primary. For two decades, Republicans allocated half the delegates through the primary and half through the caucuses. This year, the Democratic legislature killed the primary for cost reasons.
(...) Romney has focused on vote-rich King County, which includes Seattle. His office is here, and he’s courted suburban voters. Paul does best in the eastern half of the state and the southwest. Santorum should do well in eastern Washington because the area beyond the Cascade Mountains is deeply conservative and home to many evangelicals.
(...) Former Republican state chairman Chris Vance, now a public relations consultant who is neutral in the race, predicts a Romney victory.
“I see no reason why Newt Gingrich would win. I can see Santorum winning. I can see Paul winning. But I think the likely outcome is the same thing we’ve seen in other states where….because the conservatives are chopped up among three candidates, I would guess the most likely outcome is Mitt Romney wins a plurality in the straw poll,” said Vance.
Vance said the best thing Paul has going for him is years of grassroots organization. He won Spokane and the surrounding areas four years ago and since then, Paul supporters have also tried to take over the reins of the state party by organizing for local conventions.
“Because of that, the Paul campaign has what I don’t think other campaigns have and that’s a list,” said Vance. “Local Ron Paul people see this as part of their long-term goal to take over the state party. So they will be working hard at the country and convention level.”
Romney has essentially locked up the establishment, with endorsements from GOP Reps. McMorris-Rodgers, Dave Reichert and Jamie Herrera Beutler. Rob McKenna, the Republican attorney general favored to win the governor’s race in November, has declined to endorse but he was spotted at a Romney fundraiser Thursday night.