Nail-biting Democratic race gives Hawaii historic opportunity
The close Democratic presidential race brings Hawaii into the picture.
Voters have turned the conventional expectation of Super Tuesday on its head, all but deciding the Republican presidential candidacy while prolonging the Democratic race for weeks or months, bringing Hawaii's Feb. 19 Democratic caucuses into the mix. The new scenario enables Hawaii participation in an historical election year with sharp edges that need to be smoothed in both parties.
Republicans will have more time to bridge the divide between the moderation of Sen. John McCain, now the overwhelming leader in the GOP race, and the arch-conservative fringe that many Republicans have dangerously called the party's base. McCain might be a formidable candidate in November unless the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters convince many of their followers to abandon ship.
Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama seem to have appreciated the damage caused by nastiness in the South Carolina primary, minding their manners in the days leading up to this week's 22-state nominating contest. Issues of gender and race should be put aside, if that is possible in competition between a candidate who would be the first woman elected president and an opponent who would become the first African American to call the White House home.
Obama also would be the first president born and raised in Hawaii, leading many voters, such as James Burns, the 70-year-old retired chief justice of the Hawaii appeals court, to back "the local boy." That connection is likely to favor Obama in the caucuses.
A month ago, we surmised that the Hawaii Democratic caucuses were scheduled too late to be relevant, as many politicos expected Super Tuesday to be decisive. Rep. Neil Abercrombie chastised that assessment, and he turns out to have been right.
More state contests are scheduled before Hawaii shares the spotlight with Wisconsin. If Obama benefits overall, as expected, from four contests this weekend and next Tuesday's Beltway battle in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia, Hawaii could add momentum to his candidacy or give a boost to Clinton.
The closeness of the race creates the possibility that it could be undecided when the Democrats convene in Denver in August. That could place enormous power in the hands of 796 unpledged "superdelegates," party leaders accounting for nearly 20 percent of the 4,049 conventioneers -- if penalties stand against Florida and Missouri for scheduling their primaries earlier in the year.
Of Hawaii's 29 delegates, only 20 will reflect the outcome of the caucuses. The four-member congressional delegation and five state party leaders will be pledged to neither candidate, although Sen. Daniel Inouye has endorsed Clinton and Abercrombie campaigns for Obama.
If uncertainty remains as the convention opens, party leaders will be challenged to pick the winner without replicating the smoke-filled rooms of many decades ago. They can only hope that delegates chosen by voters, not party leaders, will decide on the nominee.