Otherwise meaningless Washington Caucus will give Santorum momentum

As Presidential candidates and political prognosticators turn their eyes from Arizona and Michigan to Super Tuesday, Washington state looms in the foreground. While none of Washington’s 43 delegates will be awarded as a result of Saturday’s contest, the caucus may serve a powerful role in the battle for momentum.

From 1989 until 2008 a primary election decided Washington’s party nominations. In ’08 the Republican Party decided to award half of its delegates based on a primary election and half through a caucus. This year, however, the Washington GOP will be relying on a caucus vote to inform its delegate selection.

In reality, the Washington caucus this Saturday is a glorified straw-poll. No delegates are directly awarded, but it kicks off the convention process that will culminate in the allocation of delegates at the State convention at the end of May.

The decision to suspend the primary election process this year was fueled by a desire to shrink the state’s $5 billion deficit. In May of last year, the legislature authorized the canceling of the primary election after it was determined that relying on a caucus system would cut $10 million from the state’s bottom line.

Though the Washington caucus serves no real electoral purpose this year, it is still an important engagement in the fight for momentum going into Super Tuesday.

Public Policy Polling’s mid-February survey showed Rick Santorum boasting a commanding 38 percent lead among likely caucus goers and Mitt Romney taking second place with 27 percent. Ron Paul placed third with 15 percent, and Newt Gingrich rounded out the list with 12 percent.  At the point of the survey only 50% of those polled were “strongly committed” to their candidate of choice. The other half indicated that they might end up supporting another candidate.

The frequent change in leaders in this year’s Presidential Primary contest has highlighted the importance of campaign momentum. This week the search for this valuable commodity will give meaning to an otherwise pointless state caucus.

While delegates will not be rewarded as a result of Saturday’s contest, an estimated 50,000 Washington State Republicans will express their preference for President of the United States.

Such a small turnout will leave the gift of momentum in the hands of a small group of party stalwarts, giving each voter the rare opportunity to heavily influence the Super Tuesday electoral street fight.

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