The Washington state Republican caucuses are underway as I write. Although the event is being heavily hyped by CNN, I’m not going to bother with live blogging for the simple reason that no delegates will be chosen today; the precinct-level selection of delegates is only the first step in a process that will culminate at the end of May when the state’s 43 convention delegates (40 pledged, three unpledged) will actually be chosen. By then, of course, the changing dynamics of the race may alter some of the delegates’ decisions regarding whom to support. So while today’s precinct votes are not meaningless, it is unwise to try to allocate delegate counts based on the results. Not that this will stop media outlets from doing so!
Polls suggest that the fight for precinct level delegates will be a battle between Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, with Paul hoping a victory today will give him some media-generated momentum heading in to SuperTuesday. Accordingly, while Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich spent today in Ohio, the state with second biggest delegate haul available on Tuesday, Paul remained in Washington state, hoping for good news there tonight. Keep in mind, however, my earlier warning regarding the difficulties in polling a caucus state. Initial indications are the turnout is up in Washington from 2008. (As I write, about 40% of precincts have reported and Romney has a commanding lead. Paul is in a battle for second with Santorum.)
Interestingly, although the media has focused most of their attention on the battle between Romney and Santorum, particularly in Ohio, heading into Tuesday’s 10 contests, if PPP polls are correct Gingrich may be gaining ground. He has unleashed a series of advertising, including robocalls in several southern states, and will be banking on free publicity on major talk shows tomorrow. At the very least he should retain enough strength to complicate the delegate issue in several states. In Oklahoma, an ARG poll has Gingrich pulling 22%, putting him within striking distance of Romney (at 26%) for second place, behind Santorum (37%). Because of the way Oklahoma allocates its 40 pledged delegates, the second-place finisher can pick up significant delegates both statewide and within the 15 congressional districts, assuming he gets at least 15% of the vote. In Ohio, Gingrich has an outside shot of getting to the 20% threshold which would give him a portion of that state’s statewide delegates, although he will not likely win any of the congressional districts. In Tennessee, Gingrich does not at this point appear poised to get many delegates, but he retains a large lead in Georgia, which has the most delegates at stake on Tuesday. If Gingrich draws enough support in Georgia, he may prevent Rick Santorum from reaching the 20% threshold required to get a portion of the statewide delegates there. If he finishes behind Romney, Santorum could also get shut out of the delegate allocation process within each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts.
In short, when the dust settles after Tuesday, it’s not clear to me that this will be a two-man race. Keep in mind that a strict delegate count still puts Gingrich ahead of Paul and Santorum for second place at this point. It’s possible he may still be in second, using a hard count, after SuperTuesday. Of course, in the long run the goal for both Newt and Rick (and I think Paul, although there is some question regarding his true objective!) is to prevent Romney from accumulating enough delegates to win an outright majority before the convention. SuperTuesday, with over 400 delegates at stake, gives them the best opportunity to do so to date.
Meanwhile – CNN has just projected Romney to win Washington state. Once again Paul is the bridesmaid. Let the spin begin!