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Monday, February 11, 2008 - Page updated at 02:12 PM

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Election 2008

Huckabee disputes vote count

Seattle Times staff reporter

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KARIN COOPER / AP

Campaign lawyers for Mike Huckabee were to arrive in the state Sunday night.

The results of the state Republican caucuses were called into question Sunday 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 Washington state Republican Party Chairman Luke Esser's decision to call 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 Sunday, 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 Saturday tally, Arizona Sen. John McCain won about 26 percent of delegates, former 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.

"This was an error in judgment by Mr. Esser," a Huckabee campaign release said. "Washington Republicans know, from bitter experience in the 2004 gubernatorial election, the terrible results that can come from bad ballot counting."

The state GOP posted new numbers Sunday, 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, and Paul 21 percent.

Esser said Sunday that the Republican Party was going to try to get as "close as we can to 100 percent" in the vote count. But Esser doesn't believe counting more votes will change the outcome.

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."

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Esser's acceleration of the count hasn't altered the Huckabee campaign's intent to investigate. Its lawyers were to arrive in Washington late Sunday, 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."

Pastor Joseph Fuiten of Bothell, who's heading Huckabee's volunteer effort in the state, said three Huckabee supporters in Pierce County reported voting irregularities on Saturday.

Fuiten said one woman reported that she and a Ron Paul supporter were told that they wouldn't be allowed to run for alternative delegate positions — and that no actual vote was taken at the caucus. Instead, Fuiten said the woman reported that the caucus leaders simply tallied up the sign-in sheets to get the results.

"Counting is not so much the issue, so much as it is a concern about disenfranchisement," Fuiten said.

Fuiten, who spoke with Esser on Sunday, said the Huckabee campaign is working with the party to look into those reports.

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 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 — turned out for caucuses.

With 96 percent of the precincts counted, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama won about 68 percent of the delegates, New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton won about 31 percent, and the rest choose either "uncommitted" or "other."

Final numbers will be released by 5 p.m. today, said Kelly Steele, spokesman for Washington State Democrats.

Janet I. Tu: 206-464-2272 or jtu@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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