TACOMA — Mitt Romney has won more than half of Washington state’s delegates so far, winning 24 Friday compared to five secured by U.S. Rep. Ron Paul.
Washington will send 43 delegates to the national convention in Tampa, Fla. In August.
Thirty delegates were elected Friday during the congressional district caucuses, and 10 will be elected Saturday. Three others are automatic delegates, including the state party chairman. One panel of delegates approved by Paul supporters Friday included one delegate who aligned herself with former presidential candidate Rick Santorum.
Several Paul supporters emphasized that they would ultimately back the party’s nominee. Ann Donnelly, a Romney supporter who lost to Paul loyalists in her bid to become a delegate, thanked the Paul delegation for the cordiality of the process.
“I want to bring our party together,” she said.
While Romney won the state’s caucus straw poll in March, that was just the first in a multistep process to officially allocate 40 of those delegates to a candidate.
Romney has already secured enough delegates from other states to win the Republican presidential nomination, though Paul continues to campaign.
Earlier in the day, roughly 2,300 convention attendees at the Tacoma Convention Center listened to several speakers, including Attorney General Rob McKenna, who is running for governor against former U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee; state Sen. Michael Baumgartner of Spokane, who’s running against U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell; and Santorum, who spoke via a taped message. Supporters of Ron Paul booed some speakers if they endorsed or asked for support of Romney.
Paul’s state chairman, Matt Dubin, was one of the Paul delegates elected from the 7th Congressional District caucus. He said the campaign wants to maximize the number of delegates at the GOP convention in hopes that it would be able to influence the party’s platform toward the Texas congressman’s strict message of limited government.
“The Republican Party needs to be shaken up,” he said. He also encouraged fellow Republicans to embrace Paul’s supporters and their ideas.
Vickie Nelson, 63, of Yelm, said she respected the right of Paul’s supporters to battle on behalf of their candidate. But she also hoped they would soon get behind Romney to focus on defeating President Barack Obama. She was participating in the convention process for the first time, in part because she wanted to do everything she could to get a new president.
“Obama drove me to do this. I’ve never been so concerned before,” Nelson said.
State Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur said even though the Paul supporters have a difference in opinion from the Romney supporters, including him, “we want them in the party.”
“You can have a contentious convention but not destroy the party,” Wilbur said. “We’re going to walk out of this united and better for it.”
Also Friday, Washington state Democrats opened their weekend convention. Newark Mayor Cory Booker was scheduled to speak, and the remaining 45 delegates to the Democrats’ national convention will be elected Sunday. Nearly 70 have already been elected at earlier congressional district caucuses.
Associated Press writer Mike Baker contributed to this report.