The last-minute visits — which followed recent stops by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — were more evidence that Washington's Republican caucuses may matter more than usual this year.
Two of the remaining Republican presidential contenders made a final play for supporters in Washington state Friday on the eve of GOP caucuses that could inject momentum into the winner’s campaign heading into Super Tuesday.
Mitt Romney took some jabs at President Obama during a brief morning appearance in Bellevue, mocking the president’s aloof style, golf outings and what he said were broken promises on the economy.
Texas Congressman Ron Paul drew hundreds of people at a rally in Seattle on Friday night, drawing loud cheers with his calls to slash government, eliminate the Federal Reserve and end U.S. military actions abroad.
The last-minute visits — which followed recent stops by Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich — were more evidence that Washington’s Republican caucuses may matter more than usual this year, coming just ahead of Super Tuesday when 10 states will hold caucuses or primaries.
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The Washington caucuses will include a nonbinding straw poll, but it’s the delegate elections that will matter more in the end.
Delegates picked Saturday will be winnowed down later at county and legislative-district conventions. Ultimately, the state’s 43 delegates to the Republican National Convention won’t be bound to any presidential candidate until the state GOP convention in June.
It was not clear who will win on Saturday. GOP leaders predict perhaps 60,000 voters will participate — 1.6 percent of the state’s 3.7 million registered voters.
While Romney has the fundraising edge and endorsements by many top Republicans here, his rivals were counting on motivated volunteers to thwart his march to be the GOP nominee to take on Obama.
At Romney’s Bellevue event, the former Massachusetts governor told an overflow crowd of several hundred that Americans’ standard of life was being threatened by the Obama administration.
“The American people have long believed that the future will be brighter than the past,” he said. “That’s been the promise of America. The idea that if you work hard and you have the right kind of values, and if you’re willing to get an education and sacrifice and follow your dreams, you can accomplish what your heart desires.
“But now that promise is in question, in a lot of homes across America,” he said.
Obama had “a goal that he would take America to a place we wouldn’t recognize,” Romney said. “He wants to fundamentally transform America. I want to restore to America the principles that made us” a great country.
Romney said he would negotiate new trade agreements to boost sales of Washington products such as airplanes and software, cut taxes and go through thousands of government programs one-by-one, asking if each is “so essential it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?”
Repeating a familiar Republican attack, Romney said Obama had promised 2009’s $787 billion federal stimulus would hold unemployment below 8 percent. That GOP claim has been rated “mostly false” by the fact-checking organization PolitiFact, which says although an administration report made qualified projections that unemployment would go below 8 percent, Obama never made any specific promise.
Romney’s stump speech at Highland Community Center lasted almost 20 minutes and followed a closed-door fundraiser the night before — his only appearances here ahead of the caucuses. After the speech, Romney heads to Ohio, a pivotal battleground state and a key prize on Super Tuesday.
Romney complained that the White House has done little to crack down on the overseas market for pirated U.S. patents, intellectual property and computer software, adding that 75 percent of software sold in China was stolen, costing the U.S. $8 billion a year.
He said that while China and the European nations over the past three years have negotiated 44 new trade agreements, “do you know how many trade agreements this president negotiated? Zero.”
Obama did sign new trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, but the bulk of those agreements had been negotiated by the Bush administration and held up since by partisan disputes.
Still, Romney said that despite the country’s economic turmoil, he remained enthusiastic about the United States’ prospects. “Some people get discouraged,” he said. “I don’t.”
Paul, meanwhile, drew an estimated 750 supporters to a nighttime rally at the Bell Harbor International Conference Center on Seattle’s waterfront.
They chanted: “President Paul!” and “End the Fed” in response to his appeals for a smaller government.
While criticizing Obama for the health-care overhaul, overspending and attacks on personal liberties, Paul said there was blame to go around for Republicans, too.
“They say we need more compromise in Washington. We don’t need more compromise because they’ve been compromising and both agreeing on big government,” he said.
Paul mocked what he said was a constant and growing encroachment on personal liberties by government regulation. “They’re down to the point where they can tell you whether you can drink raw milk or not,” he said.
Paul said people should make their own choices and live with the consequences without demanding their neighbors or the government take care of them.
Looking for his first win of the GOP presidential race, Paul predicted he’d do well in the caucuses, saying his message of “freedom and limited government is the future.”
Paul spoke earlier in the day in Spokane and Clark County.
He is the only candidate on the airwaves in the state, having spent roughly $40,000 to run ads on cable channels.
This report includes material from The Associated Press.
Craig Welch: 206-464-2093 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @craigawelch.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or email@example.com. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner