Though it's a non-binding straw poll with no delegates at stake, Saturday's caucuses will give the top vote-getter bragging rights and whatever momentum those provide heading into contests in 10 states on March 6.
And in the see-saw marathon involving Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, a little momentum can mean a lot.
"There is a buzz. This time Washington will be relevant," said Bothell's Republican mayor, Mark Lamb.
All four candidates sense it, too. Each is visiting Washington in advance of the caucuses -- a historic rarity -- bringing with them national media attention.
"Everybody would like to do pretty well here," Gingrich told reporters in Olympia on Friday morning. "We want to do well enough that people see that I'm genuinely competitive. Super Tuesday (March 6) is going to be an important day."
The kinetic energy generated by the campaigns will cause participation to soar, said state Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur.
"People are excited. I expect record attendance," he said. With the state's presidential primary canceled, this is the only chance Republicans in Washington have to say who they want the GOP nominee to be, he said.
Given the rollercoaster nature of the campaign thus far, neither Wilbur nor Snohomish County Republican Party Chairman Bill Cooper would forecast which candidate they believe will be claiming victory Saturday.
Cooper said he senses Republicans in Snohomish County are "as polarized" in their choices as Republicans have been in other states.
"It will be interesting to see the count. There doesn't seem to be a nominee standing out," Cooper said. "So I don't think we'll have anybody dominate."
Paul's supporters established a presence among the rank-and-file four years ago and remain well organized, he said. Romney began organizing last year, and Santorum and Gingrich have become more earnest in recent weeks.
Santorum, Paul and Gingrich each drew hundreds of people to events this month, and Romney expects a large crowd when he visits Bellevue next week.
Four years ago, none of the presidential candidates dominated here.
Arizona Sen. John McCain, the eventual Republican Party nominee, edged out former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee in the statewide totals. Paul finished third and Romney fourth. But Huckabee topped all candidates in Snohomish County, followed by McCain, Paul and Romney.
This Saturday's caucuses will be conducted from 10 a.m. to noon on school campuses and in community buildings throughout Snohomish and Island counties.
Each precinct holds its own caucus. You can find out where to go on the county Republican Party website, www.snocogop.org. For people in Island County, go to islandcountygop.com.
It's simple to participate. You must be registered to vote. You also must be willing to sign a form saying you "consider yourself to be a Republican" and you will not be taking part in the nominating caucuses of any other political party. Democrats are caucusing in April.
Now comes the key part for the quartet of GOP hopefuls.
When you sign in, you also will be writing in the name of the presidential candidate you prefer. If you don't have one, you can write "undecided."
Preferences will be tallied and totals announced by the state party in the late afternoon or early evening.
The main task Saturday is getting the party started on the road to picking delegates to the Republican National Convention in August in Tampa, Fla.
Washington will send 43 delegates. Three already are set: the party chairman and the two national committee members. The remaining 40 will be selected at the state party convention June 2 in Tacoma.
To be one of those, you must be elected a delegate at the precinct caucus level, then again at the county convention. (The Snohomish County convention of Republicans is March 31 at Snohomish High School; Island County's is March 24 at Oak Harbor High School.) Washington is not a winner-take-all state, so more than one presidential candidate could end up with a share of delegates if enough of their supporters make it through the process.
Tom Tangen, who lives just outside Edmonds, took part in the 2008 caucuses. He said he's expecting it's going to be a bigger event this year because of the energy of the candidates.
"I think Republicans are really happy with four very good candidates, and (President Barack) Obama's record is creating lots of enthusiasm," he said. "I'm excited because attending a caucus, your voice means so much more than in a primary."
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Precinct caucuses
When: 10 a.m. to noon Saturday; doors open at 9 a.m.
Where: In Snohomish County, check www.snocogop.com and in Island County check islandcountygop.com.
How to caucus
It's easy. You must be a registered voter and willing to sign a form saying you "consider yourself to be a Republican" and you will not be taking part in the nominating caucuses of any other political party.
When you sign in you also will write in the name of the presidential candidate you prefer. A tally of the results will produce a winner of the straw poll.
The bulk of the caucus will be spent electing delegates to the March 24 Island County Convention and March 31 Snohomish County Convention.
For more information, go to wsrpcaucus.tumblr.com/faq or www.wsrp.org.
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