Mitt Romney cruised to a projected victory in the Washington state caucuses Saturday night, notching his fourth win in a row in the final contest before Super Tuesday.
The former Massachusetts governor is expected to carry the state by a double-digit margin. The performance helps Romney further reassert his frontrunner status following a string of defeats to Rick Santorum last month. Every bump of added momentum counts with all four candidates competing fiercely for the 419 delegates up for grabs this Tuesday across the 10 states holding primaries and caucuses.
With 43 percent of precincts reporting in Washington, Romney was well ahead with 37 percent.
Ron Paul and Rick Santorum, each with 24 percent, were battling for second. Newt Gingrich had 11 percent.
The Washington caucuses, usually a sleepy and sparsely attended party affair, were both elevated and overshadowed by the Super Tuesday battle. Only Paul, who poured campaign resources into the state in search of his first win, was actually in Washington on Saturday. The rest of the candidates spent the day in Ohio, considered Tuesday's biggest prize.
Still, Washington's position on the calendar, wedged between the contest in Romney's home of Michigan and Super Tuesday, gave it rare sway in the GOP presidential primary season. All the candidates campaigned there at least once. The state also offers a total haul of 43 delegates. Though delegates will not be allocated directly out of Saturday's nonbinding straw poll, the contest still gives the winner bragging rights.
Romney's victory follows wins in Michigan and Arizona this past Tuesday, and before that in the low-key Maine caucuses.
Looking ahead to Ohio, Romney got a boost there Saturday when the influential Cleveland Plain Dealer endorsed the former Massachusetts governor. Romney also has been ripping Santorum for a paperwork problem that left his campaign ineligible for 18 of Ohio's 66 delegates.
"Delegates is what it's all about," Romney said.
Santorum, though, said he's "not worried" about such organizational issues.
"It's David and Goliath. I get that," he told Fox News. "And you know what? I know who wins in the end."
Though Romney has the momentum, it won't be a walk for the delegate frontrunner this coming week.
Gingrich has made delegate-heavy Georgia, which he used to represent in Congress, his firewall state, and recent polls continue to show the former House speaker leading the pack there.
Santorum continues to lead in Ohio polling, though Romney is catching up. Those two states are the biggest delegate prizes on Tuesday. Ohio has the added bonus of being a crucial swing state in the general election with a reputation as the mother of all bellwethers.
Gingrich, campaigning in both states, in recent days has appealed to frustration among voters with the war in Afghanistan, as protests over the accidental burning of the Koran at a U.S. base coincide with attacks by Afghans which so far have claimed the lives of six U.S. troops.
On Friday, Gingrich uncharacteristically declared "there are limits to American power."
"It's time to face the facts. The period where the United States went out and tried to change a civilization which is rejecting that change is over," Gingrich said.
The statement elicited cheers from the audience, though Gingrich stressed that he wasn't talking about "isolationism" -- something the candidates accuse anti-war Paul of advocating.
Santorum, meanwhile, has tried to carefully tailor his platform, and strike a balance between his well-known stances on social issues and an inclusive economic message.
"A lot of folks say Rick, just talk about the economy, talk about jobs," Santorum said in Ohio on Friday. "I will talk about that, I do. But ... we're kidding ourselves if we don't talk about doing things to help and encourage the American family, marriage, fathers taking responsibility for their children, putting networks of support for individuals and families here at the local level."
Ahead of the Washington contest, Romney led in the overall delegate count with 173. Santorum had 87, followed by Gingrich with 33. Paul had 20.
It takes 1,144 delegates to clinch the nomination.