Isle presidential caucus shifts
Dems are already lobbying for favorites in a vote moved to February from March
Hawaii Democrats have moved next year's caucus a month earlier from March to Feb. 19 to give the state a higher profile in the presidential campaign, according to Mike McCartney, state Democratic chairman.
Before the caucuses, the roughly 30,000 Democrats in Hawaii are organizing around their favorite candidates, with Illinois Sen. Barack Obama seen as the hometown favorite because he was born in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou School.
"There is a lot of excitement and there are a lot of new people who want to get involved because of Obama," McCartney says.
The decision to move Hawaii's caucus to Feb. 19 puts the state in the third rung of caucuses, with Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, South Carolina and Florida all moving their caucuses to January. Another round on Feb. 5 includes California and New York and has been dubbed "Mega-Tuesday."
If a clear winner in the Democratic primary hasn't been selected by then, the Hawaii and Wisconsin caucuses later in February might be pivotal.
Meanwhile, local Democrats are already hustling for votes.
"I don't think the race will be decided early, so Hawaii might be in a good position to add some momentum," McCartney said.
Obama's campaign won the early support of Democratic supporters in Hawaii who had been thinking about first supporting Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y.
Charles Freedman, Democratic party volunteer and former communications director for former Gov. John Waihee, said Clinton would have been the natural candidate for Hawaii.
"Until Obama entered the race and began to build credibility as a candidate, many of Hawaii's political Democratic leaders were leaning heavily to Sen. Clinton because their experience with the Clinton campaign was overall very positive," Freedman said.
Other volunteers, like former campaign director and state Rep. Kate Stanley, say they are "very fond of Hillary, but this year we are supporting Obama."
Clinton's campaign did woo Senate President Colleen Hanabusa to her camp and Clinton herself sealed the deal with a Sunday phone call to Hanabusa.
"I will be playing one of the pivotal roles for her in Hawaii and would expect to serve as a spokesperson for her," Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa, whose last foray into presidential politics was to head up the local campaign for former Sen. Bill Bradley, said Clinton should win the primary.
"I think Hillary has an excellent chance to pull off the nomination and then go on to become president," Hanabusa said. "The Clintons made good friends in Hawaii, and they have a long history with Hawaii.
"Remember, with Clinton, you are not just running against Hillary, you are also running against Bill, who is going to be remembered as one of the most popular and one of the most competent presidents," Hanabusa said.
Hawaii's two senators, Dan Inouye and Dan Akaka, have yet to publicly announce support for a presidential candidate.
While Rep. Neil Abercrombie is supporting Obama, his freshman colleague, Rep. Mazie Hirono, has not taken a position.
In the past campaign, Hirono was an early supporter of former Sen. John Edwards' campaign for president.