KENNEWICK -- Mitt Romney decisively won Washington's fiercely contested Republican caucuses Saturday, according to network projections, giving him an important boost going into Super Tuesday, when 10 states vote across the nation.
The former Massachusetts governor won 36.2 percent of the vote with 77 percent of precincts reporting. Trailing were Texas Rep. Ron Paul, with 25.1 percent; Rick Santorum, former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, with 24.4 percent; and Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, with 10.8 percent.
The defeats for Paul and Santorum could be a stinging blow. Santorum on Thursday told a Pasco crowd, "We can put this race on a whole other plane if Washington speaks conservatively on Saturday."
Paul, who had high hopes here, said he was running a decent second. He ran ads, drew enthusiastic crowds throughout the state and greeted voters in Puyallup on Saturday. He has counted on caucus states, where turnout is low and activists are more prominent.
But Romney, who campaigned in Washington on Thursday and Friday, had the support of key Republican establishment figures and argued he was a true conservative.
Romney will undoubtedly trumpet support from Republicans in the West's second largest state as proof that he is hurtling toward the nomination, even though less than 2 percent of the state's 3.7 million voters were expected to turn out. It's his third victory in a big state in five days.
1,144 delegates are needed to nominate at the Republican convention in August. No delegates were chosen in the Washington caucus Saturday.
The most closely-watched race Tuesday will be in Ohio, where Romney and Santorum are in a close race. Santorum faced new trouble there after it was revealed Friday he failed to file full delegate slates, which could cost him as many as 18 delegates.
The candidates also are vying in Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma and elsewhere on the single biggest day of the primary and caucus season.
Romney appeared to be leading on the west side and south-central Washington.
Paul was a favorite with voters in rural counties in northeast and southeast Washington.