D-Day for caucus
The importance of tonight's vote is expected to result in a huge turnout
STORY SUMMARY »
The waiting is over for Hawaii Democrats -- well, almost.
The state party's most anticipated presidential caucus is tonight, but voters are being told to expect lines and delays. The combination of a tight national race and the local connection of one candidate has elevated interest in the state caucus to unprecedented heights.
Presidential hopefuls Sen. Hillary Clinton of New York and Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois are vying for Hawaii's 20 delegates and nine superdelegates. Obama, who was born on Oahu and graduated from Punahou School, has generated plenty of interest locally, while Clinton has the support of Hawaii's top Democrat, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, and a powerful government workers union.
Democratic Party officials predict heavy turnout at 68 caucus locations throughout the state. Only about 4,000 people came to the party caucus four years ago, but voters could easily triple that number tonight. Officials have ordered extra ballots, and some worry that even those might not be enough to accommodate everyone.
Any registered voter who signs up as a member of the Democratic Party -- even at the caucus itself -- will be eligible to participate. The party also will distribute voter registration forms at caucus locations to people who want to cast a vote.
How to find your caucus site
Democratic caucus locations will open between 6 and 6:30 tonight, and voting is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Most locations will be different from your normal election polling place. Here is how to find your caucus site:
» Call the Clinton campaign (440-7960) or the Obama campaign (253-8117) to find out where you should go.
» If you live in Honolulu, you can also go to www4.honolulu.gov/vote to find your House district and precinct. Type in your street and ZIP code, and it will give you your district number and precinct. Then go to www.hawaiidemocrats.org and follow the links -- "caucus, poll sites" and "sites -- all islands" -- to find your caucus site by district. Neighbor island districts are also listed at the Hawaii Democrats' site.
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FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
Daphne Griffin, front, and other Barack Obama backers cheered during speeches yesterday at a rally at Farrington High School.
It's old-fashioned grass-roots campaigning as Hawaii's Democrats head into the last hours of their unprecedented presidential caucus.
The two candidates, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, go after Hawaii's 20 delegate votes tonight.
To win the Democratic nomination at the national convention in Denver in August takes 2,025 votes. The caucuses in 68 sites across the state tonight will hold a preference poll for registered Democrats to find out how many want Obama and how many think Clinton should run for president.
Hawaii has usually held its caucus in March and has never played a role in selecting the Democratic nominee, but the caucus date was moved up this year and the interest in Hawaii's 20 votes is intense.
Both campaigns have launched so-called robo-calls, with a computer dialing home phones to play a recorded message.
Some Honolulu residents received messages yesterday from both Obama and Clinton's top Hawaii supporter, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
In a phone interview from Wisconsin yesterday with the Star-Bulletin, Clinton repeated her earlier characterization that her Hawaii campaign is "an uphill battle," given Obama's roots in the state.
"I just hope to do as well as I can. I have no predictions to make. I have an uphill battle, and I understand it and I respect it," Clinton said.
Where Clinton sees a grim battlefield, Obama supporter U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie said the campaign has become the emotional event of the political year.
"I tried to stay away from this figure (of speech), but you can't get away from it. The emotion is all what it is about. It is all for Obama," Abercrombie said before he addressed a crowd of several hundred at an Obama rally at Farrington High School.
Abercrombie and Inouye are two of Hawaii's nine superdelegates, who are not bound by the results of tonight's voting. In other words, according to party rules, they can vote for whomever they want and are free to switch their support.
U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton greeted supporters yesterday at a campaign stop at Wausau Labor Temple in Wausau, Wis. Clinton and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama are engaged in a heated contest for presidential delegates; 20 are at stake tonight in Hawaii's Democratic caucuses.
At a weekend Clinton rally, Inouye was asked if he would continue to back Clinton if Obama continued to win primaries and caucuses across the country.
"I have a vote, and I don't want to say I just am along with (whoever) is the winner.
"I know Hillary, and I know she will make a good president. If she doesn't win, then whomever is the nominee, I will support," Inouye said.
Asked if he thought the superdelegates should follow the lead of the popular presidential vote, Inouye said no.
"If that is the case, they shouldn't have superdelegates. Why should they give us the vote if we are not given the right to exercise it?" Inouye asked.
The surge of Democrats wanting to vote for Obama, however, is expected to strain the capabilities of the Democratic Party, which was startled four years ago when 4,000 showed up on caucus night to vote for Sen. John Kerry and Rep. Dennis Kucinich. For tonight, 17,000 ballots have been printed for the expected voting surge.
Abercrombie said he is telling fellow Democrats to expect long lines and some confusion at the precinct meetings.
"It is going to be a long night. He (Obama) is bringing in new voters. He is going to be the beneficiary of the new support, but still it is going to take time at the caucuses," Abercrombie said.
Party officials, in a news release yesterday, said they expect the first vote tallies to be in sometime after 8:30 p.m.
"Our rules say that districts have 48 hours to report their result to party headquarters. We expect that all district chairs will report in as soon as they can, but we cannot promise you a complete tally on the 19th," Stuart McKinley, Democratic Party communications director, warned.
Star-Bulletin reporter Laurie Au contributed to this report.