- Washington votes three days before Super Tuesday contests
- All of the remaining GOP candidates have campaigned in the state recently
- Santorum tells Washington voters they can put the race "on a whole other plane"
- Washington GOP chairman says it's first time in a while the state has had an impact
Forty delegates are up for grabs when Washington state holds its Republican presidential caucuses on Saturday, but much more than that -- a quick shot of momentum going into Super Tuesday is also at stake.
Washington's caucuses come just three days before Super Tuesday, when 10 states hold primaries and caucuses on March 6. And because of that, all four major GOP presidential candidates have campaigned in the state, hoping that a strong finish there can carry over to Tuesday.
"You have an opportunity to shift the election again," former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania said Thursday while campaigning in Spokane.
"Everybody is focused in on Super Tuesday. You are the voice that is going to speak very loudly before Super Tuesday and put this race on a whole other plane," Santorum added at an event hours later in Pasco.
It's a similar message from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who campaigned in Washington on Friday.
"There are a bunch of states that are going to make up their minds on Tuesday, but you guys are first, and so your voice is going to be heard," Romney said at a campaign event in Bellevue.
Rep. Ron Paul of Texas campaigned in Washington two weeks ago and is back in the state Friday and Saturday. He's also running campaign commercials in Washington, as is former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who made a swing through the state last week.
The fact that all four candidates made the long trip to the Pacific Northwest isn't lost on the state's GOP chairman.
"This is the first time any one GOP presidential candidate has paid attention to us in recent memory, and my memory goes back to the 1970s," Kirby Wilbur, chairman of the Washington state Republican Party, told CNN. "We used to be the ugly sister invited to the dance, but no one asked to dance. Now we are the princess."
Kirby said that the state's contest used to follow Super Tuesday, when in most cycles the battle for the nomination was basically over.
The caucuses are open, which means independent voters and Democrats can take part in the GOP contest.
Here's how it will work: Each of the state's 6,700 precincts will elect one to five delegates at the caucuses, which kick off at 10 a.m. (7 a.m. ET) Saturday. While some smaller caucus meetings will be held in private homes, most caucus gatherings will be larger and held in public places, such as schools, and will include multiple precincts.
Besides voting for delegates, caucus-goers will also vote in a nonbinding GOP presidential preference straw poll. While delegates to the GOP convention in Tampa, Florida, won't be determined until later rounds of voting this spring, major news organizations, including CNN, will make proportional delegate estimates based on Saturday's presidential straw poll results.
The state GOP projects that 40,000 to 60,000 people will take part in the caucuses, up from the 12,616 who participated in the 2008 Republican caucuses. There was also a primary on the Republican side four years ago, with around a half-million voters casting ballots.