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GOP candidates target Washington caucus | Paul courts Mormon voters
Washington's state Republican presidential caucus on March 3 could set the tone for next week's Super Tuesday battle in 10 states.
Four candidates are vying for the GOP nomination to face President Barack Obama in the November general election: Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Texas Congressman Ron Paul.
These four campaigns have been active in Washington over the past few weeks, with Gingrich, Santorum and Paul hosting rallies in the Puget Sound region as well as Eastern Washington. Romney's son has been visiting supporters in the region and state. Romney himself will be in Bellevue on Thursday and Friday.
Romney's front-runner status has wavered throughout his campaign as other candidates have won state primaries and caucuses. Earlier this week, Romney won the primary in Arizona and edged Santorum in a controversial Michigan race.
The candidate who wins Saturday's caucus in Washington could gain crucial momentum for the Super Tuesday election on March 6. Click here to learn more about caucus locations in Washington.
The Mormon connection
Romney and his Mormon faith have been under scrutiny by the public and media.
Other GOP candidates, most notably Paul, are courting this voting bloc, which consists of active voters who support conservatives.
There are an estimated 257,710 Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints members across Washington, according to ldschurchnews.com. Nearly 76 percent of the U.S. Mormon population lives in western states, with Washington ranking behind states like Utah, Arizona, Idaho and California. The total U.S. Mormon population is about 6.1 million.
Mormons comprised about 11 percent of Republican voters in 2008. A recent Washington Post report notes that the Romney campaign has made no public effort to organize Mormon voters. Likewise, these voters want to avoid drawing negative attention to their faith in any way that can hurt Romney's chances.
That said, almost 95 percent of Mormon voters in Nevada backed Romney in that state's caucus on Feb. 4. Mormons represented one-fourth of Nevada's total voter turnout.
City-data.com reports that about 40,500 Mormons live in King County.
"Most of the LDS voters that I know are supporting Mitt Romney," said a Federal Way resident, who requested anonymity because of his role with a local LDS ward. "The fact that he's LDS probably plays some part in it, but I think more, it's just the pragmatism (of Romney's candidacy)."
The Federal Way resident noted that "as a church, we keep politics outside the church doors." Also, being a Mormon candidate doesn't necessarily mean mass support from LDS church members. A prime example is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who got little traction in Washington state as a candidate.
"Most of the time with LDS, we tend to keep politics separate from religion," he said, noting that Romney is his choice because of electability as well as concerns for economic issues, rather than social issues. "At least on the surface anyway, most members of the church are socially conservative, and the bulk tend to be fiscally conservative."
The Ron Paul campaign has formed "LDS for Paul" groups as part of its strategy in Washington and other states. Paul's loyal supporters typically include young Republicans, Libertarians and the military. They often make a strong showing at caucuses.
Renton resident Dewain Clark, 28, is an LDS church member who supports Paul for the 2012 election.
"You would think that because I'm Mormon, I would vote for Romney, or because a person is Catholic, they will vote for Santorum," said Clark, a Republican precinct committee officer. "That's a baseless conclusion."
Clark, who served seven years in the U.S. Navy, supported Obama for president in 2008. Clark admits that he's probably in the minority among Mormon churchgoers as far as his pick for president. But he says Paul's message — which is often dismissed by the mainstream as being too fringe or distracting — best reflects his personal, political and religious values. In addition, Clark's military service in the Middle East helped shape his views of war and U.S. intervention overseas.
"Ron Paul points out all the time about any sort of act of aggression or any sort of violence accomplished by military should only be done with complete support of American people and Congress," Clark said, pointing to Paul's well-known adherence to the U.S. Constitution. "I haven't heard Mitt Romney even evidence that he's read the constitution or is familiar with it."
Clark hopes that LDS voters do their research and avoid following any media-manufactured bandwagon.
"The Book of Mormon teaches that we should do things to the best of our conscience," Clark said. "If people are willing to vote for anything less than what they believe in, that's compromising, and that's not a good idea. I am going to vote my conscience."
Debbie Higley, a resident of Vancouver, Wash., is an LDS church member who supports Paul. While she acknowledges that Mormons will likely pick Romney, Higley said voters should choose a candidate who better represents Republican values, rather than relying on a religious connection.
"Frankly, Mitt Romney is just as much in favor of government interference as Barack Obama, in my opinion. He's just more palatable to conservative people," said Higley, 56, who plans to participate in this weekend's caucuses. "We get the government we deserve, so I am hoping to make that change."
In 2008, eventual presidential nominee John McCain won the Washington caucuses with 25.9 percent of state delegates, and won the primary with 49.5 percent of votes (the state canceled the 2012 primary). In the 2008 caucuses, Paul won 21.64 percent of delegates, and won 7.65 percent of primary votes. Romney finished with 15.45 percent of delegates in the caucus and 16.25 percent of votes in the primary. That year, Romney and Paul also raised the most money among Republican candidates.
The King County Republican Party will hold its Precinct Caucuses at 10 a.m. March 3. To locate a precinct caucus, visit the Caucus Locator Page online at www.kcgop.org. Those without Internet access can receive caucus location information by telephone (425) 990-0404.
Residents from each precinct gather at their respective tables at a district caucus location. Residents discuss their preferences on candidates.
The overall goal is for each precinct’s participants to pick two or more delegates to vote on behalf of the group at the District 30 convention. The caucus allows participants to sway fellow precinct voters to support their candidate. Voters can also remain uncommitted.
At the district convention, the number of delegates is narrowed down. The process continues at the county and state levels. In the end, those delegates participate in the national nomination process.