03/03/2012 10:44 am ET Updated Mar 03, 2012

Washington Caucus 2012: Candidates Focus On Ohio Despite Race In Evergreen State


WILMINGTON, Ohio -- Republican voters in Washington state are set to choose a presidential favorite as the GOP hopefuls focus on the 10 contests coming Super Tuesday.

All four contenders have visited Washington ahead of Saturday's caucuses, but three of the four are campaigning in Ohio, the critical primary state next week. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are fighting for the state – and it promises to be another important test for Romney, who seeks to quell doubts about his candidacy from voters and the party establishment.

"Let me tell you, the other guys, they spent their lives in Washington, working in a world of influence and in some cases lobbying," Romney said of his rivals at a rally Friday night in Cleveland. "Except if you want to get the economy fixed and you want to create jobs, I think it helps to have had a job. And I have."

The Super Tuesday primaries and caucuses stretch from Vermont to Alaska – where Texas Rep. Ron Paul was set to campaign Saturday – but the top showdown is in this industrial state, a rematch of sorts after Michigan's primary. Romney won narrowly there over Santorum.

Romney flew to Ohio on Friday afternoon after a stop in Bellevue, Wash., where he held a campaign fundraiser and appeared at a rally at a community center.

"There are going to be a bunch of states that are going to make their mind up in the next couple days and so you guys are first," Romney told an overflow crowd of hundreds. "Show up – it won't take a long time, it'll just make a big difference."

Santorum, who visited Washington in February, was back Thursday for rallies in the more conservative eastern region, while Romney, who has been working to build support from establishment Republicans here and has rolled out dozens of local endorsements, hosted a high-dollar fundraiser in Bellevue, where tech giant Microsoft is based.

Their visits came on the heels of one by Gingrich last week.

Washington's caucuses are the last before Super Tuesday contests in Idaho, Alaska, Georgia, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia, offering a total of 419 delegates.

Washington's caucuses are an opportunity for Paul. He's the only candidate on the air, having spent roughly $40,000 to run ads on cable channels.

At stake are 40 delegates to the Republican national nominating convention this summer, a cache second only to Florida's 50 in contests thus far. Registered voters of all political stripes can participate in the caucuses, but they must sign an affidavit identifying themselves as Republican and promising not to participate in a caucus for another party.

In Ohio, Romney, Santorum and Gingrich plan to participate in a forum hosted by Mike Huckabee and taping Saturday afternoon. Romney also planned events in Dayton and Cincinnati. Santorum and Gingrich were both set to speak at a Lincoln Day dinner in Bowling Green and planned other events across the state.