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Washington race gives GOP candidates last chance for momentum before Super Tuesday

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Shown here are Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.AP

For the first time in decades, Republican caucus-goers in Washington state may have a real say in who runs for president. 

"We have always been the ugly sister who never gets invited to the dance," Washington state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said. "But this year we're the princess, and we really like it." 

All of the remaining four GOP presidential candidates have campaigned in the Evergreen State hoping to get the lion's share of the 43 delegates at stake. 

But perhaps the most important impact of this Saturday's straw poll will be the potential bump gained by the winner heading into Super Tuesday when 10 states vote and 419 delegates are up for grabs. 

Preferring to compete in caucus states rather than states that hold large primaries, Ron Paul is believed to have the best organization in Washington state. 

Volunteers have been making calls and going door to door for several months. At a packed rally in SeaTac, Paul continued to hit his libertarian themes. "What we need is a lot less government management of our lives," Paul shouted, "and a lot more individuals running their own lives." 

Rick Santorum appeared headed for an easy victory just a couple of weeks ago. A Public Policy Polling survey had Santorum with an 11-point lead over Mitt Romney. Paul and Newt Gingrich were down by 23 and 26 points, respectively. 

But then the Santorum surge started to flag. A PPP poll taken over the last two days shows Romney, who won the Michigan and Arizona primaries on Tuesday, with a slim lead over the former Pennsylvania senator. 

Romney does appear to have the backing of the Republican Party establishment in Washington state. In a blue state where there is no registration by party, the Republican Party is fractured at best. But a rising GOP star in Congress, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers from Spokane, is heading the Romney effort. 

"He's been an impressive leader when he was governor, a businessman," McMorris Rodgers said. "And I believe that he would bring important leadership as president of the United States." 

The conservative base, which tends to turn out the biggest in caucuses, is still skeptical. "With Romney, I'm never certain where he is," said Pastor Joe Fuiten of the Cedar Park Assembly of God. "When he gives me the answer, I'm still not certain." 

Fuiten has thrown his support behind Gingrich. 

During a campaign stop in Spokane last week, Gingrich seemed to tone down his attacks against Romney, choosing to spend most of his time criticizing President Obama. But he did take a couple jabs. "We need a conservative to be running against Barack Obama," Gingrich told the audience. "We do not need a moderate who will be unable to distinguish himself from President Obama." 

None of the candidates are spending a lot of money in Washington state. Paul is airing an ad called, 'Three of a Kind', which attacks all three of his opponents. Romney's Super PAC is spending heavily in Ohio and other Super Tuesday states.

Dan Springer joined Fox News Channel (FNC) in August 2001 as a Seattle-based correspondent.