BELLEVUE — Former governor and Republican candidate for president Mitt Romney has a healthy early lead in the straw poll taken at caucuses held across Washington State Saturday, according to a count just released by the Washington State Republican Party.

So far, with 15 counties reporting, Romney has 31.53% of all votes. Congressman Ron Paul is in second with 26.90%, with former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum close behind at 24.38%. Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich trails all others with 12.87%.


UPDATE (4:43 p.m.): New numbers just given to me by the Washington State Republican Party now show Romney extending his lead and taking 36.34% of votes counted. The new counts are as follows:

Romney      36.34%
Santorum   24.46%
Paul              24.14%
Gingrich     11.87%
Undecided 3.14%
Other            0

Those figures represent the counts of 23 counties, but does not yet include counts from the most populous counties in the state–Spokane, King, Snohomish and Pierce–according to State Party Chair Kirby Wilbur. The chairman has said he expects those counts to come in within the hour.


UPDATE (5:00 p.m.): Further analysis of the numbers show a remarkable turnout with more than 17,000 votes already tallied in the presidential straw poll.

Though Romney currently has a strong advantage, that could evaporate when the larger counties turn in their votes. The Ron Paul campaign has been extremely active in King and Snohomish counties, particularly in engaging younger voters, held two rallies in Western Washington, and two east of the Cascades, appearances that have the potential to pay big dividends.