Huckabee won't concede state; GOP resuming delegate count
The results of the state Republican caucuses were called into question today after presidential candidate Mike Huckabee challenged the party's...
Seattle Times staff reporter
The results of the state Republican caucuses were called into question today after presidential candidate Mike Huckabee challenged the party's declaration that Arizona Sen. John McCain had won the delegate count.
Huckabee's campaign took issue with the fact that Washington state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser called the race Saturday night with 87 percent of the precincts counted. At that point, McCain was ahead of Huckabee by 242 delegates out of the 13,000 counted, Esser said. The Huckabee campaign contends there were another 1,500 or so delegates not counted.
In the face of the Huckabee protest, the state Republican Party quickly resumed its count today, a bit sooner than it had planned.
In a news release, Huckabee's campaign said there were "obvious irregularities" in the state's Republican caucuses and that it is sending lawyers to explore "all available legal options regarding the dubious final results."
According to the GOP's Saturday tally, Arizona Sen. John McCain won about 26 percent of delegates, Arkansas Gov. Huckabee won 24 percent, Texas Rep. Ron Paul finished with 21 percent, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who has dropped out of the race, got 17 percent. Most of the rest were non-committed.
"This was an error in judgment by Mr. Esser," the release from the Huckabee campaign said. "Washington Republicans know, from bitter experience in the 2004 gubernatorial election, the terrible results that can come from bad ballot counting."
The state Republican party posted new numbers late this afternoon, with 93 percent of the precincts reporting. The percentages didn't change much, with McCain winning about 25 percent of the delegates, Huckabee 24 percent, Paul 21 percent, and Romney 17 percent.
Esser's acceleration of the count hasn't altered the Huckabee campaign's intent to investigate. Its lawyers should reach the state by late today, said James P. Pinkerton, a campaign spokesman.
"This clearly requires a full excavation as to what happened," Pinkerton said. "The political impact of calling an election before all the votes are counted is pretty seismic. Chairman Esser should fully explain what happened and why to the satisfaction of all Washington state Republicans and all Republicans nationwide."
Esser said this afternoon that the Republican Party was going to try to get as "close as we can to 100 percent" in the vote count, and may have more numbers by later today. But Esser doesn't believe counting more votes will change the outcome.
"We're eager to give everybody the same level of confidence in the numbers as we have," he said.
Esser said their last county report on Saturday came shortly before 10:15 p.m., at which point they had 87.2 percent of precincts reporting. That's when they did an analysis, saying: "Let's take every county where Huckabee is beating McCain, and double the margin of victory," Esser said. "And then take every county where McCain is winning and cut in half that margin of victory. Even if you assume that, Sen. McCain still holds on.
"That's when we said we're confident that Sen. McCain's lead was going to hold up," Esser said. "I would have done the same for Gov. Huckabee if he had the same margin and the same underlying dynamics as Sen. McCain."
Esser said he spoke today with Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Bothell, who's heading Huckabee's volunteer effort in this state. According to Esser, Fuiten said Huckabee supporters reported some voting irregularities. Esser said the party would investigate those allegations. Fuiten could not be reached for comment.
Esser said he didn't have a figure for the number of people who attended the Republican caucuses, since he asked workers to focus on the delegate elections.
Saturday's caucuses will determine only a portion of the 40 Republican delegates who will go on to the Republican National Convention. Caucuses at various levels will determine 18 of those delegates; 19 will be based on the state primary election on Feb. 19. The three remaining positions are "automatic" delegates — the state party chairman and two national-committee members.
Paul's campaign is also not conceding the state.
Maureen Moore, Washington state coordinator for the Paul campaign, said her candidate "did wonderful — a lot more wonderful than what's being reported."
On the Democratic side, more than 200,000 people — a record number — turned out for the state caucuses. With 96 percent of the precincts counted, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won about 68 percent of the delegates, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton won about 31 percent, and the rest choosing either "uncommitted" or "other."
Final numbers will be released by 5 p.m. Monday, said Kelly Steele, spokesman for Washington State Democrats.
Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or email@example.com
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