The large crowds were in spite of reports of people in King County and elsewhere receiving robocalls falsely claiming the caucuses had been cancelled. The state party said it was investigating the source.
Several hundred people packed the cafeteria at Phantom Lake Elementary School in Bellevue, where small groups debated issues of immigration, state budgets, transportation, abortion and other issues. Supporters backed a range of candidates, but there was one prevailing theme: beat Obama.
Timothy Rietveld, 57, a bank credit officer, said he voted for Romney, though "my heart is for Santorum."
"I picked Santorum early as my dark horse, but I think at this point that Romney is the most electable, and the primary goal is to beat Obama," said the Bellevue resident.
This is the first year since 2004 that Republicans won't use a presidential preferential primary in addition to the caucuses. The primary was canceled this year for budgetary reasons, as was the one in 2004.
Up until 1992, the state relied solely on caucuses. But after 1988, when backers of television evangelist Pat Robertson swamped the meetings and ultimately took the nation's largest Robertson delegation to the GOP convention in New Orleans, the Legislature quickly moved to create a presidential primary.
Previously, Republicans split delegate allocation evenly between the primary and caucuses, but this year they will solely use the caucuses.
Associated Press Writers contributing to this report were Chris Grygiel and Manuel Valdes in Seattle, Phuong Le in Bellevue and Jonathan Kaminsky in Olympia.
Washington State Republican Party: http://wsrp.org
Follow Rachel La Corte on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/RachelAPOly
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