Will Ron Paul get his first win in a nominating contest on Saturday, or will Washington state’s GOP voters go for the “default” choice (according to the Seattle Times), Mitt Romney?


Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. (REUTERS/Joshua Roberts)

And a few factors unique to the state make it a tough one to answer.

For starters, this year will mark the first time that Washington state Republicans have made their presidential choice through a caucus-only process. Typically, they have held both a caucus and a primary, splitting their national convention delegates evenly between the two.

But last year, the state legislature approved a bipartisan plan to do away with the primary in order to save the state an estimated $10 million. (Primaries are administered by the state, while caucuses are run by the parties.)

Caucuses are notoriously more difficult to predict than primaries given that the former are lower-turnout contests that tend to require a time commitment of several hours and thus draw only the most motivated base voters of either party.

In 2008, for instance, the Washington state GOP caucuses saw fewer than 11,000 voters turn out. The GOP primary, held 10 days later, drew 430,000 voters — or more than 40 times the number who turned out for the caucuses.

So that means, as in all caucuses, today’s contest will hinge on which candidate’s voters are most motivated to show up. And a look at the 2008 results suggest Paul is in a strong position: While the Texas congressman placed third in both the Washington state primary and caucus four years ago, he took 22 percent in the caucus compared with just 8 percent in the primary.

For another thing, as we’ve noted, the delegate race is a completely separate one from the straw-poll vote — and according to the state GOP, no information on the delegate results will be released tonight.

That means it’ll be hard to know whether the straw-poll vote is an accurate reflection of the way delegates will be divvied up among the candidates. In most precincts today, caucus-goers will cast their straw-poll vote by writing the candidate’s name on a sign-up sheet as soon as they enter their caucus site.

So, those voters who don’t have hours to spend at a caucus on a Saturday afternoon could in theory sign the list, then head home — leaving only the most determined caucus-goers (read: Ron Paul supporters) sticking it out to vote for delegates.

With 43 delegates at stake (more than in five of the 10 Super Tuesday states), Washington is kind of a big deal. So stay tuned tonight as The Fix posse live-blogs on the straw-poll results, which are expected to start rolling in at 8 p.m. Eastern.

Here’s a closer look at today on the trail (Courtesy of candidate schedules and the PBS NewsHour Political Calendar; all times Eastern):

9 a.m.: Rick Santorum holds a rally at the Crowne Plaza in Blue Ash, Ohio.

12:30 p.m.: Ron Paul greets caucus-goers in Puyallup, Wash.

3:05 p.m.: Mitt Romney holds a town hall in Dayton, Ohio.

5:30 p.m.: Rick Santorum addresses the Allen County Lincoln Day Dinner in Lima, Ohio.

6:15 p.m.: Newt Gingrich addresses the Tri-County Friends of NRA in Findlay, Ohio.

7 p.m.: Mitt Romney holds a rally at the Montgomery Inn Restaurant in Cincinnati, Ohio.

7 p.m.: Ron Paul holds a caucus-night party in Seattle, Wash.

7:45 p.m.: Newt Gingrich delivers remarks at a Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner in Bowling Green, Ohio.

8 p.m.: Rick Santorum addresses a Lincoln-Reagan Day Dinner Bowling Green, Ohio.

8 p.m.: Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich participate in a presidential forum hosted by former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee (R).