Mitt Romney wins Washington caucuses

CBS

2012 - Elections - Romney
CBS

Updated Sunday, 9:40 a.m. ET

(CBS News) Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has won the Washington caucuses.

With all 6,785 of 6,785 precincts reporting, Romney has 38 percent of the vote. Rep. Ron Paul finished in second with 25 percent and former Senator Rick Santorum came in a close third with 24 percent. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is a distance fourth.

The state has 40 delegates at stake, but the caucus votes are technically non-binding. CBS News estimates the potential delegate breakdown based on results from the caucus process. Today's caucuses are the start of a process in the state to award delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

Even though the results are non-binding, the candidates took the contest seriously by campaigning or running ads there -- hoping to use a bit of good news propelling them into "Super Tuesday."

Full Washington state results
Results by county

With a projected win, Mitt Romney gets to reap the benefits. "With the support of Washington's voters, I look forward with optimism to the primaries and caucuses to come," Romney said in a statement.

In just three days, ten more states hold their nominating contests -- seven primaries and three caucuses -- and it could be a pivotal moment this campaign season that has been distinctive for not having a distinctive winner.

After a come-from-behind win in his home state of Michigan and an easy win in Arizona last Tuesday, Romney has some wind at his back as the Republican nomination progresses. The former Massachusetts governor has slowly been chipping away at the delegate count. He has now been projected to win both caucus and primaries in seven of the twelve states to have held nominating contests -- Washington, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan, Florida, New Hampshire and Maine. His closest competitor, Rick Santorum, has won four states.

A total of 437 delegates are at stake Tuesday, which is more than all twelve contests to date combined. In addition to being a delegate rich day, the states voting represent diverse section of the country. Caucus-goers in Alaska, voters in southern states of Georgia and Tennessee, participants in rust-belt Ohio and northeastern Vermont are among those who have a say on Tuesday.

Republican delegate count
Complete GOP primary results

Meanwhile, in Washington, registered voters of all stripes were eligible to participate in caucuses around the state this morning. Heading into the caucuses, the front-runner was unknown because of a lack of polling.

The outcome in Washington could be a setback for Texas Rep. Ron Paul.  He has been working to win the caucus states, aiming to reap the benefits of an impassioned voting bloc. He ran ads and campaigned in the northwestern state, continuing his strategy of focusing on caucus states filled with what he calls the "irate, tireless minority." (Paul and Gingrich will be on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday.)

Taking a subtle swipe at his opponents, Romney said, "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."

The Republican Party hoped 60,000 people would participate in Saturday's caucuses; the turn out fell short with only 49,000 Washingtonians participating - a small percentage of registered voters. In 2008, Washington's caucuses coincided with a primary that had much higher turnout -- over half a million Republican voters compared to 12,000 Republican caucus-goers. Despite known lower participation rates in caucuses, the state did away with its primary election this year due to budget restraints.

  • Leigh Ann Caldwell On Twitter»

    Leigh Ann Caldwell is a political reporter for CBSNews.com.

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