Eyes across the nation will be on Washington on Saturday as Republicans gather at caucuses to make their picks for a GOP presidential candidate.
Even though Saturday's caucuses are just the start of a process toward selecting delegates for the GOP national convention in August, the straw poll taken along with the caucus is the last indicator where voters' allegiances lie before the "Super Tuesday" contest in just a few days.
"We have received a good deal of attention from the candidates, and our state will have an impact on the course of the nominating season," Secretary of State Sam Reed said in a statement. "A large number of delegates will be at stake this spring in Washington, the second-largest state in the West. Our Republican caucuses are very early on the elections calendar, coming on the heels of Arizona and Michigan and just ahead of Super Tuesday."
Washington will send 40 delegates to the GOP national convention -- but those delegates won't be selected until the state convention that starts May 30 in Tacoma.
What happens Saturday is the selection of delegates by local precincts -- the smallest voting units made up of neighborhoods or parts of neighborhoods -- to send to the county conventions.
The delegates who go to the county conventions in turn will select delegates to send to the state convention.
But delegates at this stage of the game aren't bound to any candidate, said Josh Amato, spokesman for the state Republican Party.
Support for a candidate isn't firmed up until the national delegates are selected, he said.
But it's nonetheless important for Republican voters to attend the precinct caucuses to pick their delegates to send to their county conventions, as attendees also will discuss the party's platform planks, GOP officials said.
A straw poll done concurrently with the caucuses will give them a chance to voice their preference for a candidate -- taking a pulse on who Republican voters in the state might be likely to support in an election.
It's the only chance they will get to voice a preference, because the state is not having a presidential primary this year.
The Legislature canceled the primary to save money on election costs, because Democrats traditionally have selected all of their delegates using caucuses, and Republicans have selected half of their delegates through caucuses, rendering the primary mostly an informal vote for a nominee.
"To make your vote count, you must attend the caucus," said Benton County Republican Chairman Patrick McBurney.
Caucuses start at 10 a.m. Participants must be registered voters, and although they don't strictly have to be members of the Republican Party, they do have to sign a statement saying they consider themselves Republicans and won't participate in Democratic caucuses April 15.
Benton County caucus locations:
w Prosser precincts 2401 Buena Vista, 1400 Cook, 2302 Gap, 450 Prosser, 460 Prosser, 2300 Prosser North, 1290 Rattlesnake, 2305 Walnut Grove and 1380 Wellington: The Barn Restaurant, 490 Wine Country Road, Prosser;
w Precincts 1020 Carley, 1090 Expansion, 1240 Paterson and 1360 Reese: Paterson School, 51409 Prior Ave., Paterson;
w All other Benton County precincts: Three Rivers Convention Center, 7016 West Grandridge Blvd., Kennewick.
Franklin County caucus locations:
w Precincts 1-73 and 99-101: Chiawana High School, 8125 W. Argent Road, Pasco;
w Precincts 74-82 and 85-87: Basin City Elementary School, 303 Bailie Blvd., Basin City;
w Precincts 83, 84 and 88-98: Connell Fire Hall, 605 S. Columbia Ave., Connell.
w Michelle Dupler: 582-1543; firstname.lastname@example.org