Republican presidential candidates: (from left) Mitt Romney; Mike Huckabee; Rudy Giuliani; and Ron Paul.
Isle voters gather to pick Republican party delegates
Hawaii Republicans begain meeting in caucuses yesterday, but don't expect to get a clear picture of whom they are supporting for president.
Unlike Democrats, island Republicans will not hold a presidential preference poll that would give a clue about which candidate they are leaning toward at their caucuses, which will be held in each of the state's 51 districts through Feb. 5.
Instead, the Republican caucuses will be used to elect delegates to the state convention in May. Only then will Hawaii's choice for president emerge.
"The presidential race is so far beyond anything that we influence," said Maui County GOP Chairwoman Kay Ghean. "Frankly, the most important thing in my view is finding people who can improve things for the citizens of Hawaii."
The Hawaii Republican caucus process is largely informal.
The first GOP caucus was last night in Lahaina with six more tomorrow on Oahu, the Big Island and Maui. The last is Feb. 5 in Honolulu.
Republicans will gather in parks, businesses and homes to pick convention delegates. They will appeal to be chosen based on their work within the party, their ties to the community and their political philosophy.
Some might ask for votes based on whom they are backing for president, but there is no requirement that delegates state a preference.
"I would not be surprised to see people at our caucus say, 'Vote for me, I'm a Rudy Giuliani or Ron Paul guy, and I want to carry his principles to the convention,'" said Bob Kessler, chairman for the Waikiki district. "There might be some Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee guys sitting on their hands and saying, 'Yeah, right, like I'm going to elect you as a delegate.'"
Several districts might decide to hold straw polls to get a sense of which candidate voters are supporting, said state Republican Party Chairman Willes Lee, but none of the votes will be binding on delegate selection.
"A few district chairmen asked whether they could hold secret, for-fun straw polls," Lee said. "There's nothing saying districts here can't do that."
But those results will not be reported or consolidated on a statewide level, he said.
In state Rep. Kymberly Pine's district, she said she will have people over to her house for the caucus, where they will eat barbecue before voting for delegates.
Pine (R, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) is a co-chairwoman of John McCain's Hawaii campaign, and she wants to be elected as a delegate to the conventions.
"Our caucus is going to be really casual and fun. I won't let people in until they promise to vote for me," she joked.
Once Hawaii's 1,093 state delegates are chosen, 20 national delegates will be selected at the Hawaii Republican convention set for May 16-18.
Before that vote, potential delegates may declare their presidential choice, and it will be placed on the ballot next to their names, Lee said. If elected, national delegates pledged to a candidate will be bound to support their candidate through the first round of voting at the nationwide Republican convention in St. Paul, Minn., Sept. 1-4.
Hawaii Republicans could have a split delegation with its representatives supporting various candidates, Lee said. Because Hawaii is not a winner-take-all state, that could make the islands relevant because every vote counts toward each candidate's total.
None of the Republican candidates has emerged as a favorite in Hawaii. John McCain, Giuliani and Paul are most frequently mentioned, with Romney and Huckabee seeming to trail.
"No wonder people keep calling about our caucuses. This is confusing as hell and every state is different," Lee said.
Hawaii Democrats hold their state caucuses on Feb. 19, when they will make their choice known among Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards. Democrats also will elect state convention delegates at that time.
To participate in the caucuses, an individual must be a registered member of the political party and a registered Hawaii voter.
For Democrats, caucuses are open to anyone who will sign a party card at the caucus. Republicans have to sign up 10 days in advance of the caucus in their district, so it is already too late for most.
In 2004, despite the dominance of Democrats in the state, fewer than 4,000 residents statewide voted in the Democratic presidential caucuses. For the minority Republicans, because of the registration requirement and since there was no presidential vote, the count is believed to have been much lower.