Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney declared victory after several news reports projected him winner of the GOP straw poll in Saturday’s Washington State Caucus.
Romney got a lead in early results, with more than 35 percent of the vote, and he held on as bigger counties started reporting their straw poll results. He easily won the straw poll at one of the 45th District caucuses in Kirkland, at , taking 66 of 120 votes cast.
Challengers Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were running nearly even behind him statewide.
While the straw poll results were not binding, they indicate the preferences of the participants in the caucus, and “it would be fair” to expect that the numbers reflect how the delegates will vote in the upcoming district, county and state caucuses, said Washington State Republican Chairman Kirby Wilbur.
In a prepared statement, Romney signaled that he is looking forward to the campaign in the fall.
“The voters of Washington have sent a signal that they do not want a Washington insider in the White House. They want a conservative businessman who understands the private sector and knows how to get the federal government out of the way so that the economy can once again grow vigorously.”
Read his .
Romney's state party co-chairman, former State Sen. Dino Rossi, said before the final results were released that the campaign was pleased with Washington’s results.
"I think a lot of people are saying, 'We're running a race against Barack Obama, and let's get on with it,'" Rossi said.
He said that Romney's supporters in were able to make the case to those who were not strongly in favor of the former Massachusetts governor, by touting his business experience and executive office experience.
"By the time we were done, we were 12 votes for Romney, and none for anyone else," Rossi said.
Rossi said that support for Romney in this state was strong, with Thursday night's fundraiser at Meydenbauer Center drawing three times the expected donations, and more than the expected number of RSVPs.
The chair of the caucus at Frost Elementary, Toby Nixon -- a Kirkland City Council member and former state legislator -- had earlier endorsed Romney. "His experience as a business leader, a government executive and for a non-profit -- he's turned all three around -- is exactly what this country needs. And he has the ability to bring people together to turn this country around."
Lynn Kraus, elected delegate from a Kirkland precinct, said she's backing Romney beause he is the candidate who can win. “There’s no one that is the greatest," she said "Romney, he’s the only one who can beat Obama. Newt has baggage. Santorum couldn’t beat Obama."
Eleven precincts caucused at Frost, eight from Kirkland and three from Woodinville, and the turnout of 120 was one of the largest since the 1990s.
“What’s exciting is that people are really excited about what’s going on," said Matt Bernard of Kirkland's Totem Lake area. "People have a chance to talk about it and meet their neighbors in a grassroots way. We’re talking jobs, economy, the world. They’re not very happy with what Obama’s done.”
The final tally from the 45th District caucus at Frost was Romney with 66 votes, 19 for Rick Santorum, 16 for Ron Paul, 14 for Newt Gingrich, with five undecided.
Though final statewide numbers were not in, state Republicans were expecting a turnout of about 50,000 participants in the caucus, Wilbur said.
According to Wilbur, the turnout for the caucus heavily exceeded 2008 numbers, which brought in just under 14,000 participants, which he said bodes well for Republicans in the fall – and doesn’t bode well for Democrats.
“Give me 50,000 volunteers anytime,” he said.
Republicans gathered in community centers and schools all over the state Saturday morning for the precinct caucuses, which had people lining up out the doors at some locations with much higher turnout than in previous years. The Puget Sound .
More attention has been put on the Washington state caucus than in past years, because of the hotly contested GOP presidential nomination process. Though Romney has been widely considered to be the front-runner, Santorum has won four of the 11 state contests so far, with Romney taking six states and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich taking one state.
Washington also is the only state that held a caucus on Saturday, and the results give a boost to the winner leading up to next week's Super Tuesday, when Republicans in 10 states will decide which candidate to back in the election against President Obama.
Wilbur said that Romney’s win in the state, despite variable polling and different results nationwide, was an indicator that Republicans had been undecided about Romney.
“They were waiting for Mitt Romney to make the sale,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur said that Washington state’s news on Saturday can only be good news for Romney.
“It appears to be four in a row. Nobody’s made four in a row yet,” Wilbur said.