Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona was handily winning Washington’s presidential primary battle on election night, far different from the caucuses two weeks ago when he barely beat former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.
In Tuesday’s election, McCain received twice as many votes as Huckabee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who dropped out of the race Feb. 7, was nearly tied with Huckabee for second.
“So far he appears to be winning every single county from what I’ve seen so far,” state GOP chairman Luke Esser said. “He obviously has a lot of momentum. It’s too early to draw final conclusions but no doubt it’s a really strong start for Sen. McCain.”
McCain also won earlier in the evening in Wisconsin. In a speech in Ohio, he said he was finally ready to declare “with confidence and humility that I will be our party’s nominee for president.”
On the other side of the ticket, Democratic Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., were battling for votes. Statewide, Obama leads 50 percent to Clinton’s 47 percent.
In Snohomish County, Clinton leads Obama by a scant 332 votes out of more than 47,000 votes counted so far.
Tuesday’s election was far different than the Feb. 9 caucuses for both parties.
In the caucuses, McCain held a bare lead over Huckabee, and Huckabee even won in Snohomish County.
Primary election results Tuesday instead showed McCain taking a large lead, even in Snohomish County.
The difference was expected, Esser said. Caucuses are small, energized groups and are far different from a broad-based primary election, Esser said.
Republicans plan to name 18 of their 40 state delegates based on the caucus results and 19 from Tuesday’s primary election results. The results will be carved up by congressional district; it makes a difference where the votes come from.
Three additional delegates are unpledged party leaders, including Esser.
Gary and Ruth Graber of Marysville split their support for Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Huckabee, respectively, but the two said they know deep down that McCain will be the ultimate nominee.
“If he is our candidate, I’ll vote for him, but my preference would be Huckabee,” said Ruth Graber, 65.
Gary Graber said Paul’s story hasn’t been told.
“I would not have taken this vote in the general election, but in the primary I wanted to indicate his voice ought to be heard,” Gary Graber said.
Chris Fidler, the Seattle attorney who headed McCain’s state campaign, said the broad primary victory was all the sweeter after McCain’s narrow caucus victory was disputed by Huckabee.
“I’m always nervous before a game, but I’m very pleased with the results,” Fidler said. “Senator McCain has a great deal of support among Republicans, and that will translate well with independents here in Washington.”
Joseph Fuiten, a Bothell pastor and spokesman for Huckabee’s Washington campaign, said Huckabee had a good showing in the state.
“Obviously not enough to win but he made a statement that there are strong evangelicals and conservative voters in the state,” Fuiten said. “McCain is a good man and he’s well supported. People appreciate his strong stance on national defense. He won the state both times around.”
Clinton forces had hoped she would do much better in the primary than in the Feb. 9 caucuses, where Obama swamped her.
“We campaigned hard in Washington state and it’s encouraging to see signs of that support again tonight,” said Clinton spokesman Isaac Baker.
“We’re thankful for the support we’ve received across the state as we shift our attentions to the next set of important primaries on March 4.”
Democrats plan to choose 78 of their 97 presidential delegates based on caucus results, which showed Obama winning 2-1.
Clinton’s support appeared greater in the primary than in the caucuses. She gained on Obama as nearly a half-million Washington voters cast ballots.
In Snohomish County, Clinton was winning 49 percent of the vote Tuesday to Obama’s 48 percent.
If Huckabee and Romney stay above 20 percent, they can still receive Washington GOP delegates, Esser said.
Huckabee led with 26.7 percent of caucus totals in Snohomish County compared with McCain’s 19.7 percent. Huckabee trailed McCain narrowly statewide.
Nearly all of the counties in the Washington switched to vote-by-mail systems in the past two years, allowing voters to cast ballots early.
Half of the ballots received to date in Snohomish County were cast before the Feb. 9 caucuses.
Snohomish County received more than 123,000 ballots and counted about 81,000. The figures are tens of thousands of ballots short of the predicted turnout of 45 percent to 47 percent.
Thousands of ballots might still come in the mail and election staff plan to continue to count through the week, county elections manager Garth Fell said.
About 20,000 ballots cast in Snohomish County won’t be opened or processed because voters did not check the party affiliation oath box on the outside of the envelope, Fell said. Those ballots came from areas where only the presidential primary was at stake.
A party preference wasn’t required to vote on school or other local ballot measures. Another 5,000 ballots might have their presidential primary votes rejected for lack of party affiliation, while votes on those ballots will still be counted toward local measures, Fell said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Reporter Jeff Switzer: 425-339-3452 or email@example.com.
Hillary Clinton 234,748 47.1%
Barack Obama 247,940 49.8%
Mike Huckabee 77,609 21.2%
John McCain 178,229 48.7%
Ron Paul 26,798 7.3%
Hillary Clinton 23,934 49%
Barack Obama 23,602 48.4%
Mike Huckabee 7,511 24.9%
John McCain 14,921 49.4%
Ron Paul 2,058 6.8%