Sunday, February 10, 2008

Washington GOP stops count, declares McCain winner

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo calls attention to a rather anomalous sequence of events in Washington State, following the GOP caucus there:
As you know, John McCain lost two of the three contests yesterday. He was losing narrowly in Washington state and then pulled ahead by a narrow margin (less than two points) toward the end. But then with 87% of the returns counted, the Washington state GOP, which runs the caucuses stopped releasing results. That left us and a lot of other news organizations in a bit of a quandary last night since it looked like McCain was going to pull it off. But as late as 1:30 AM on the east coast promised new results kept failing to materialize.

Then over night the Washington state GOP put out a press release announcing McCain the winner based on the 87% returns. Now, I think it would be borderline for a media organization to declare one candidate a winner when the margin separating first and second was 1.8% with 13% of the results still uncounted. But for the officials holding the election to declare the result on that basis is simply bizarre. But that's what they did.
At least one news organization (FoxNews) announced around midnight EST that the count was being suspended and would not be resumed until the morning. That announcement seemed rather bizarre, since normally vote counters do not break off from counting a close election at 9 p.m. on election night. Another update occurred less than an hour later, bringing the total precincts reporting to 87%, where it remains frozen more than 12 hours later. In the meantime, Washington State Party Chairman Luke Esser's declaration of McCain as the winner (available at Washington GOP) made no mention of any suspension in the count and announced the result with an air of certainty and finality:
“What a great day for Washington Republicans. They came out in full force today to support their candidates, and to make their voices heard. Congratulations to Sen. McCain for a hard-fought win, his second caucus victory in the 2008 presidential nomination process. And congratulations to Gov. Huckabee for his strong second-place finish.”
The GOP website reports that final results are not expected until Monday.

UPDATE: The topic of the Washington caucus results came up briefly today in Tim Russert's interview of Gov. Mike Huckabee on Meet the Press, and Huckabee suggested that his campaign may be looking into some "legal issues":

MR. RUSSERT: Next up is Tuesday, we have Maryland and, and Virginia. Here's Mason-Dixon, latest polls out this morning: McCain, 54; Huckabee, 23 in Maryland. In Virginia, it's McCain, 55; Huckabee, 27. You're the decided underdog in both those states.

GOV. HUCKABEE: Oh, sure. That was before the caucuses and primaries yesterday. I think we're going to get a pretty nice little bump out of what happened in Kansas. You know, we weren't polling big in Kansas; we won 60-to-24. Most people--in fact, we didn't think Louisiana was winnable because of the way they're structured. It's a very strange structure. That was a surprise to us. Washington state, it's not quite yet over; still too close to call.

MR. RUSSERT: Well, the party has declared it over.

GOV. HUCKABEE: They have, but there's some weird things. We're, we're looking at some legal issues up there, and so we're not ready to concede that one until we understand how...

MR. RUSSERT: You think on Tuesday, though, Virginia's your best state?
(Meet the Press, February 10, 2008).

UPDATE 2 The Huckabee site calls attention to the suspension of the vote count and promises that they are looking into the matter.

UPDATE 3 Fox News Exclusive: Huckabee Campaign Calls for “Full Investigation” into Washington State Results
Fox News has learned that the Huckabee campaign has called for a “full investigation” into the Washington State Caucus results, and are sending campaign lawyers to the state to help in that pursuit. Ed Rollins, Huckabee campaign chairman, directly challenged Washington State GOP Chairman Luke Essers move in anounncing that John McCain had won the tight race with only 87.2 percent of the votes counted.

”The chairman showed very bad judgement in stopping the voting last night when announcing John McCain had won, when there was less that a 200 vote margin between the two candidates,” Rollins told Fox in an exclusive interview.” You never announce a vote, in my 40 years of politics I have never know anybody to announce a vote count before the vote is counted.

Rollins was quick to say that they were not accusing the McCain campaign of anything but that their issue was soley [sic] with the Esser’s “Bad judgement”.

Fox News was given unprecedented access to a strategy session today, with the Huckabee campaign inner circle. Ed Rollins, the national campaign chairman, lead the meeting where the main topic was how to challenge the Washington caucus results. Rollins also said their attorneys have attempted to contact Essers but as of this writing he had not returned their phone calls.
UPDATE 4: Here's the video of the above exchange on Meet the Press (hat tip to Talking Points Memo):

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