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Postman on Politics

Chief political reporter David Postman explores state, regional and national politics.

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February 10, 2008 9:03 AM

McCain and Huckabee get second chance to woo GOP here

Posted by David Postman

Sen. John McCain is holding on to a very slim lead in yesterday's Republican presidential caucus. The state party released numbers at 11:30 last night that had 87.2 percent of precincts reporting, showing McCain with 25.5 percent of the vote and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee with 23.7 percent.

Texas Congressman Ron Paul had 20.6 percent and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney won 16.5 % even though he dropped out of the race last week. There were about 12.7 percent uncommitted.

State Party Chairman Luke Esser said in a statement the results were good news for Republicans.

“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.”

But there's clearly no consensus among state Republicans about who they want as their nominee and an obvious unhappiness with the idea of McCain at the top of the ticket.

At a Republican caucus in Kent yesterday, Times reporter Yu Nakayama talked with Chris Vance, former chairman of the state Republican Party. Vance, a McCain backer, said he was confident, despite the significant number of voters who appeared to be uncommitted, that Republicans would unite by November.

"The people here are the most committed, most conservative, most passionate, grass-roots activists. I'm absolutely certain that John McCain's going to be the Republican nominee. And I'm absolutely certain that these people will work hard for John McCain. Today, a lot of them are reluctant to get fully on-board. But it's February. By the time Fall comes around, I have no doubt that all these people will be ringing doorbells, putting up signs, standing on street corners, campaigning for John McCain, Dino Rossi and Rob McKenna."

Neither McCain or Huckabee had much of a caucus organizing effort here. Both campaigns told me in recent weeks that Romney was the best organized for today's caucus. His departure came late enough that no one could have been able to organize many of those Romney folks for the caucus.

Much of what happened yesterday on the Republican side was spontaneous, not the work of any crafty campaign.

McCain and Huckabee get a second chance to compete here. The primary Feb. 19 will apportion about half the Republican delegates. McCain has always expected to do better in the primary than the caucus. I expect we'll see some more concerted effort on the part of both campaigns in the coming week.

Last night I spoke with Pastor Joe Fuiten. He heads Huckabee’s volunteer effort here.

“I think the line that was quoted … is true. The press keeps wanting to bury Mr. Huckabee but he has had more resurrections than Jesus. They keep burying him and he just keeps rising back up.”

Fuiten said he will make a pitch to the campaign that Huckabee visit Washington before the primary. Huckabee’s wife, Janet, visited this week, doing more than 15 media appearances, Fuiten said.

“I started calling on the morning after he did so well on Super Tuesday and said, ‘Give us some help out here.’ They put no money into Washington. Zero; no staff, no advertising.”

Fuiten said Huckabee likely did well here because unlike in some other states there has been fairly wide support for the candidate among evangelical leaders. And with Romney out of the race, he said, there is no one left to attack Huckabee on the stump and call him a liberal.

“He’s no liberal in any way, unless you call liberal building roads and funding education, and I don’t.”

(This includes material I originally posted last night but has been updated with the most current numbers.)

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