Mitt Romney has stepped out to an early lead over his Republican presidential rivals tonight in Washington state caucuses, a quiet prelude to 10 Super Tuesday contests next week in all regions of the country.
Returns from caucuses in 12 percent of the state's precincts showed the former Massachusetts governor with 31 percent of the vote, while Ron Paul had 27 percent and Rick Santorum had 24
Newt Gingrich trailed with 14 percent.
There are 40 delegates at stake, and a likelihood that at least two of the contenders for the nomination to oppose President Barack Obama would add to their totals.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, had 173 delegates at the beginning of the day, according to an Associated Press count that includes party officials who will vote on the selection of a nominee but are not selected at primaries or caucuses.
Santorum had 87, Gingrich 33 and Paul 20.
It takes 1,144 delegates to win the nomination at the Republican National Convention this summer in Tampa.
Romney, Santorum and Gingrich are all campaigning in Ohio the most intensely contested of the Super Tuesday states as the first caucus returns were reported.