Mitt Romney won the Washington state Republican caucuses on Saturday. The former Massachusetts governor easily defeated former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Congressman Ron Paul, who were battling for second place. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich trailed further behind.

Many caucus sites were packed, with people waiting in long lines to get inside. More than 1,000 people showed up at Kentlake High School in Kent.

So many people turned up at Three Rivers Convention Center in Kennewick that about 800 people were turned away, said Tony Benegas, a member of the Benton County Republican Committee. Organizers had expected about 1,500 people, but about twice that many showed up Saturday morning.

We were trying to accommodate everyone, said Benegas. A lot of folks were angry. A lot of folks were excited to be here.

There were lines out the door at an Elks Club in Puyallup as voters filed in. Ron Paul greeted people before they entered.

State Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna stopped by his Bellevue caucus and greeted participants, but didn t express a preference for a presidential candidate.

What's excitingis that people are fired up about getting involved, and you know so much of campaigning is overly focused on television advertising and direct mail when in fact, the grassroots activity is often what makes the difference, he said. It did four years ago, I think it will this year.

High school senior Cole Thomas was one of several dozen gathered at the Labor Temple in Seattle's Belltown neighborhood. Thomas said he supports Ron Paul because of his pledges to bring troops home and his Libertarian stances on drug policy and other issues.

I'm big on small government, the 18-year-old said.

Emma Fishbeck, 84, said she supported Newt Gingrich at a caucus in Yakima.

He knows from experience -- he's not testing the waters, she said. He knows how government works. You have to know how it works to change it. And he knows where the bodies are buried.

People in Washington state are used to having a presidential primary, but there is no presidential primary this year because the State of Washington decided to save $10 million by dropping it. Instead, it s up to the political parties to hold their own caucuses. Saturday s Republican caucus was not run by the state, but by the Republican party.

While the caucuses are nonbinding, state Republicans say it could create momentum for the four candidates on their last stop before Super Tuesday, where voting takes place in 10 states. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul have all visited the state in recent weeks.

Washington state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur expected about 50,000 people to attend Saturday's caucuses.

The Washington GOP said there were reports of people in King County receiving robocalls falsely claiming the caucuses had been cancelled. The party said it's investigating the source.

We're not sure exactly what's going on, party spokesman Josh Amato told The Associated Press. We just wanted to make sure to tell people that it wasn't true.

Caucus explainer

Washington will have 43 delegates at the Republican National Convention in Tampa this summer. None of the delegates will be selected or allocated based on this Saturday's caucuses. In previous years, half of our the Washington GOP delegates were allocated based on the caucuses and half based on the primary. But the primary was canceled and the state party decided that the caucuses would not be used to determine presidential preference of national convention delegates.

Caucus-goers vote in a presidential preference straw poll as part of the check-in process prior to the start of the caucuses. Attendeees will fill out a form that includes a place to write down presidential preference. Those forms will be tallied later in the day, long after the caucuses have ended. The straw poll results will be announced Saturday night.

The precinct caucuses will elect delegates to upcoming county conventions. There's no link between presidential preference and the election of those delegates. The county conventions will elect delegates to the state convention, again with no link to presidential preference. The state convention will elect 40 delegates to the national convention (three delegates per congressional district and ten delegates at large). Those 40 delegates will be committed to specific presidential candidates.

The remaining three delegates are party officials who will go to the convention uncommitted, although they are free to announce their support for a candidate if they so choose.

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