Washington Caucus Wrap Up: Mitt Wins, But How Big?

Posted: Mar 03, 2012 9:35 PM

Going in to a decisive Super Tuesday week, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney can chalk up another primary victory, this time in the state of Washington. With 60% of precincts reporting, Romney won 37% of the vote on Saturday during the state's nonbinding caucus. Texas Rep. Ron Paul and former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum were tied at 24%, but at the time of writing, Spokane county had not yet reported votes, and Paul is expected to perform well there. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich trailed with 11%.

The win marked the fifth in a row for Romney; furthermore, as Slate's Dave Weigel noted, it's the second time (Michigan was the first) where Romney was behind in polling, but came out the winner. He has the momentum heading into Super Tuesday; he can state his case on the basis of electability.

That being said, this isn't a crushing blow for Santorum's efforts. He may have lost today, but he can conceivably argue that he fared poorly in liberal-leaning states (i.e. Michigan and Washington). It's a tricky argument to make -- after all, how do you fight the simple fact of a loss? -- but most of the states contested on Tuesday are Southern or Midwestern, places where a candidate like Santorum is likely to fare well. Indeed, he's up by over 20 points in Oklahoma, 19 in Tennessee, and currently by 5 in Ohio -- the most contentious location on the map next week.

Adding to the mess is the fact that no delegates were awarded tonight, and they won't be until local and state conventions in late March and late May. The caucus didn't really count for anything tonight, but for momentum. That seems to have gone to Mitt; but given the polling in major delegate states, the question becomes: does it matter?