Published March 03, 2012
All the Republican presidential candidates save for Ron Paul were running a remote race for delegates in the Pacific Northwest Saturday, looking for momentum out of Washington's low-key caucuses but focusing their resources on the Super Tuesday prize of Ohio.
Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich scheduled a full day of rallies and speeches in the Buckeye State. They will be nowhere near Washington when the state announces the results of its presidential caucuses Saturday evening.
The candidates see Ohio as one of the most important contests this Tuesday, when 10 states and 419 delegates are up for grabs. Romney got a boost there Saturday, when the influential Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed the former Massachusetts governor.
Still, Washington state offers two assets for candidates who perform well -- a total stock of 43 delegates and the last likely chance to generate national buzz before Tuesday.
Paul, who has poured his campaign energy into lower-key caucus contests like that held in Maine last month, said Friday night he's looking for a "big day" in Washington on Saturday
"We're gonna have a good day. ... We're gonna get a few delegates, right?" Paul said in Seattle.
Polling in Washington state has been sparse. The latest Public Policy Polling survey shows Paul in third, with Romney leading and Santorum close behind. Gingrich is trailing in Washington.
All the candidates have campaigned in the state at least once, but only Paul is holding a rally there Saturday night. The rest are looking for a boost out of the state, without creating the impression that it means too much to them.
Romney is barreling toward Super Tuesday with the wind at his back from his victories earlier in the week in Michigan and Arizona.
But it won't be a walk for the delegate frontrunner and former Massachusetts governor.
Gingrich has made delegate-heavy Georgia, which he used to represent in Congress, his firewall state, and recent polls continue to show the former House speaker leading the pack there.
Santorum continues to lead in Ohio polling, though Romney is catching up. Those two states are the biggest delegate prizes on Tuesday. Ohio has the added bonus of being a crucial swing state in the general election with a reputation as the mother of all bellwethers.
Gingrich, campaigning in both states, in recent days has appealed to frustration among voters with the war in Afghanistan, as protests over the accidental burning of the Koran at a U.S. base coincide with attacks by Afghans which so far have claimed the lives of six U.S. troops.
Gingrich elicited cheers on Thursday in Georgia when he threatened to withdraw from Afghanistan. On Friday, Gingrich uncharacteristically declared "there are limits to American power."
"It's time to face the facts. The period where the United States went out and tried to change a civilization which is rejecting that change is over," Gingrich said. "We are not prepared to use the level of violence it would take to fundamentally and profoundly change these countries, and therefore they're not going to change in the short run. They're going to remain who they are, they are going to be dangerous to us and our position should be we reserve the right to protect ourselves."
The statement again elicited cheers from the audience, though Gingrich stressed that he wasn't talking about "isolationism" -- something the candidates accuse anti-war Paul of advocating.
Santorum, meanwhile, is defending his campaign against criticism from team Romney over a paperwork problem in Ohio that has left him unable to compete for a chunk of Ohio's delegates.
Santorum said Saturday he's "not worried" about such organizational issues. "This is a marathon, not a sprint. We're going to keep working," he said.
Santorum also has tried to carefully tailor his platform, and strike a balance between his well-known stances on social issues and an inclusive economic message.
"A lot of folks say Rick, just talk about the economy, talk about jobs," Santorum said in Ohio on Friday. "I will talk about that, I do. But ... we're kidding ourselves if we don't talk about doing things to help and encourage the American family, marriage, fathers taking responsibility for their children, putting networks of support for individuals and families here at the local level."
In the overall race for delegates, Romney leads with 173, followed by Santorum with 87. Newt Gingrich has 33 delegates and Ron Paul has 20. None is yet close the 1,144 delegates to the national convention required to secure the Republican nomination.
There are about 6,700 precincts in Washington, and Republicans have predicted up to 60,000 participants across the state on Saturday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.