February 11, 2008

Can't Anyone In Washington Handle An Election?

The Republican caucus in Washington only determines the status of 18 delegates, and they can't even get that much right. The state which saw a number of irregularities in the last presidential election produced another whopper of an error over the weekend, when the Republican Party suddenly stopped counting results and declared John McCain the winner. Mike Huckabee, only two percent behind McCain with 13% of precincts left to report, protested:

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.

However, it looks like Esser may have been correct in his prediction, if not in his methodology. With 94% of the precincts now reporting, McCain still leads by about the same percentage. The split seen in the caucus means that all three remaining presidential contenders will gain delegates, with the winner perhaps getting one more than the second place finisher. It might be a 7-6-5 assignment, which means absolutely nothing in terms of the overall primary race.

Less than half of Washington's delegates get chosen in the caucus. The remainder get selected in the primary, which takes place a week from tomorrow. Why Washington even bothered with a caucus is beyond anyone's reckoning, given that a primary would have provided a much cleaner method of calculating the allocation. Of course, Washington elections haven't exactly been a model of competence in the last few years, either.

Regardless of who wins the caucus, the results are so close as to make the final allocation almost meaningless. It's a push -- and Huckabee can't afford pushes. If McCain wins big in Virginia as expected and starts taking the big Northern states of Ohio and Pennsylvania, he won't need much more than weak second-places finishes everywhere else to clinch the nomination. Huckabee will continue until the money runs out, but he's as unlikely to be a rallying point for conservatives as Mitt Romney was in the end.


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