FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Supporters for Hawaii-born presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama gathered yesterday at Ryan's Grill in Ward Centre to watch the Super Tuesday returns roll in. Obama's half-sister Maya Soetero-Ng, right, spoke to the crowd.
Hawaii's caucus gains significance in a deadlocked primary campaign
As Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Hillary Clinton traded election victories last night, Hawaii edged into play on the national level.
The Hawaii Democratic caucus Feb. 19 will be key to the national campaigns, according to local supporters of both Obama and Clinton.
Andy Winer state director for the Obama campaign, said the close national race between Obama and Clinton put Hawaii on the national radar.
"Hawaii is definitely in play and every delegate vote will count. The national campaign is definitely talking about us, they recognize we are important," Winer said.
Clinton supporters see the race in Hawaii as a tough campaign.
"The question is going to be who organizes the caucuses better. We know which parts of the state have a better chance of organizing and where the Clinton votes are and we are going to get those votes out," says Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, a spokeswoman for the Clinton campaign.
Sources in the Obama camp say they are readying national television spots to start broadcasting this week in Hawaii.
Hawaii has a total of 29 delegates eligible to vote at the national convention to be held in August in Denver.
At the Feb. 19 caucus, Democrats will vote in precinct meetings for whom they want, either Clinton or Obama. Almost half of the 29, 13 delegates will be apportioned according to the caucus votes. The other 16 votes will be cast by party leaders or top-ranking elected officials, who are dubbed "super delegates."
Most of the "super delegates" don't have to declare for a candidate, although Sen. Dan Inouye is pledged to Clinton and Rep. Neil Abercrombie is voting for Obama.
On the Republican side last night, local supporters for Sen. John McCain, were ready to wrap up the primary elections and start working for a victory in the November general election.
"Right now we are speechless, we never thought we would do that well already," said Rep. Kym Pine, Hawaii McCain co-chairwoman.
"I think he will surprise a lot of people in Hawaii because Democrat after Democrat is telling me McCain is an American hero and they will vote for him," Pine said.
For the Democrats yesterday, most of the campaign action was at a rally held for Obama volunteers at Ryan's at Ward Centre.
Volunteers ranged from James Burns, the 70-year-old former chief judge of the Hawaii appeals court to 16-year old Rachel Briggs, an Obama volunteer coordinator.
"I'm backing the local boy," Burns said, drawing attention to the fact that Obama was born in Hawaii and graduated from Punahou.
Briggs attend La Pietra Hawaii School for Girls, where Obama's sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng teaches.
"I heard a lot about him from his sister, so I started researching him and really liked what I saw and read and I thought this was really something I wanted to be a part of," Briggs said.
At last night's rally of about 150 Obama supporters, Briggs was stationed at the door asking people to use their cell phone to make last minute calls to potential Obama supporters.
"I am not able to vote for him, so I am doing everything else I possibly can," Briggs said.
Soetoro-Ng spoke to the crowd, telling them "Barack is the real deal."
Later in an interview she explained that as a humanities teacher she has been searching "for a way to engage young people and for them to become active participants in their community.
"I want to make sure I have a country that I can be proud of and I am sure that my brother is the man to ensure that," Soetoro-Ng said.