February 10, 2008 8:58 p.m.

As you know, here at TPM we’ve been really curious what happened in the Republican caucus in Washington state. For probably the first time in all the primaries and elections I’ve ever watched, the folks running the election decided to stop counting the votes with 13% of the votes uncounted. And this wasn’t a 70-30 blow out, but a tight race where the two top vote getters were separated by less than 2% of the vote. Then this morning, state party chair Luke Esser decided to declare McCain the winner.

Now, when we were watching this last night and I was trying to examine the tea leaves this morning, I was assuming they’d come forward with some story that there was some hang up with the votes or some mechanical issue. Whether it would be true is another matter. But you’d think they’d at least come up with a good story.

But state party chair Luke Esser said that he just thought it was the right thing to do. According to Esser, sometime overnight Esser did some sort of back of the envelope statistical analysis of the the margin of McCain’s lead (1.8%) and the number votes left uncounted (13%) and decided that Huckabee didn’t have a chance and he’d shut the thing down and declare McCain the winner.

So was that a good idea? Here’s Esser’s rationale

“Maybe it would have been safer if I hadn’t said anything. But it was an exciting and historic day for the state and I thought if I was confident about what the outcome would be I should share that with the people who had gone out to their caucuses.”

So it was just such a rollicking good time Esser figured he owed the participants a decision as long as he was confident what the outcome would be.

I’m really not sure I’ve ever heard anything that ridiculous.

In terms of consequence, Bush v. Gore it ain’t. This is a relatively small contest in a nomination campaign that appears to be over. But this is something you’d expect either from Soviet history or a farcical passage in a Faulkner novel. And let’s not forget the context. Huckabee starts the day with a blowout win in Kansas. That evening he gets the largest number of votes in Louisiana. Then in the third contest he’s neck and neck with John McCain and looks like he may win all three contests of the day — a shut-out for the all-but-declared nominee. Then as it’s going down to the wire, the head of the state party decides he’s seen enough and calls it for McCain.

Here at TPM, as we watched the rate of the reporting slow to halt on Saturday evening, we joked amongst ourselves that with McCain already getting beaten by Huckabee twice that day maybe the organizers of the election figured that if they just held out long enough people would just forget they’d held a caucus. But as it got later and later we started to wonder if it wasn’t a joke.

I still find it pretty hard to imagine these bozos would try something quite this brazen. And it may well be an electoral tempest in a teapot. But this one looks and quacks like a duck. So someone should give it a much closer look.

Late Update: It seems that Washington State GOP chair Luke Esser spent most of the day avoiding calls from the Huckabee campaign. And when he finally got back to them he told a lawyer for Huckabee’s campaign that they’d probably count the rest of the votes some time next week. When the lawyer, Lauren Huckabee, the candidate’s daughter-in-law, requested that a Huckabee lawyer be present when the remaining votes were counted, Esser hung up on her. Before the hang up, Huckabee also asked Esser about the DIY statistical analysis he did to conclude that he should call the race (Esser’s expertise in statistics apparently stems from previous work as a state prosecutor and a sports writer). Was there an analysis of what precincts the remaining votes came from? According to Huck campaign manager Ed Rollins, Esser admitted that he didn’t know which precincts the remaining votes came from.

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