TUKWILA — Republican Mike Huckabee prepared Sunday for legal and political challenges to John McCain’s apparent victory in Washington’s presidential caucuses.
“The Huckabee campaign is deeply disturbed by the obvious irregularities in the Washington State Republican precinct caucuses,” Huckabee campaign chairman Ed Rollins said in a statement posted Sunday on the campaign’s Web site.
Rollins did not specify what the irregularities were and said it was “an outrage” that GOP Chairman Luke Esser declared McCain the winner with just 87 percent of results in Saturday night.
At that time, McCain led Huckabee by 2 percent.
On Sunday, with 93 percent of ballots counted, the Arizona senator’s lead had shrunk slightly; he had 25.4 percent to 23.8 percent for the former Arkansas governor. Rep. Ron Paul is third with 20.7 percent.
“I felt confident when I made my announcement, and I am even more confident after these latest results,” Esser said Sunday.
Balloting is expected to wrap up today, Esser said.
Esser said a Huckabee representative told him the campaign wasn’t happy the party had declared McCain the winner, but that the campaign did not detail any legal issues of concern.
“If they can provide me with anything of substance to ask about, we’ll be happy to inquire,” Esser said.
Rollins said Huckabee’s lawyers “are prepared to go to court, and we are also prepared to take our case all the way to the Republican National Convention in September.”
“It was Mr. Esser’s duty to oversee a fair vote-count process. Washington Republicans know, from bitter experience in the 2004 gubernatorial election, the terrible results that can come from bad ballot-counting,” Rollins said, referring to Democrat Chris Gregoire’s razor-thin victory over Republican Dino Rossi after two recounts and a court challenge.
“We’re objective arbiters. We’d have been happy to say Mr. Huckabee was the winner,” Esser said. “The numbers are what they are.”
Esser said if a recount is sought he would call up the volunteers who ran the caucuses and ask them to double-check their work.
Esser said Sunday night that he had not spoken with Rollins or anyone in Huckabee’s national campaign. He did speak with Joe Fuiten of Bothell, the Huckabee campaign leader in Washington.
Fuiten said some of the candidate’s supporters complained they had not been allowed to express themselves and have their votes properly counted.
Kim Davis of Lakewood in Pierce County outlined her experience in an e-mail that Fuiten sent to Esser and Huckabee’s national campaign.
“I think that was the trigger that fired the shot,” Fuiten said.
In an interview, Davis said she “absolutely” thought McCain supporters rigged voting in her precinct because she and a Ron Paul supporter were denied a chance to run to be delegates.
“They didn’t follow the process. No one got to talk. No one got to vote,” she said.
“I felt like what they did was wrong,” she said. “If they could do that to us, I wondered how many other places could that have happened.”
In a statement released Saturday night, Esser said McCain had beat Huckabee 26 percent to 24 percent. The latest tally provided to the Associated Press had McCain winning 3,468 precinct delegates to Huckabee’s 3,226 a difference of 242 out of nearly 13,500 who had been elected at that point.
Huckabee trails McCain, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, in the overall race for delegates, but has vowed to stay in the race until a candidate earns the 1,191 delegates needed to win the nomination.
Washington state’s Republicans have yet to allocate the 40 delegates it will send to the national convention in Minneapolis-St. Paul from Sept. 1-4.
Washington is the only state where Republicans use both the primary and caucus results to allocate delegates. About half of the delegates will come from the presidential primary on Feb. 19, with the remainder coming from the caucus and convention process.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Reporter Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
n Barack Obama wins the Maine Democratic caucuses. Page A3
n Hillary Rodham Clinton still has the lead among superdelegates. Page A3