FL MORRIS / FMORRIS@STARBULLETIN.COM
During last night's Democratic presidential caucus at Manoa Elementary School, there was a crush as the crowd moved inside the cafeteria.
Obama rolls to heady victory
Hawaii Democrats give him 76% of the vote to Clinton's 24%; A record turnout at the caucuses causes big problems
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U.S. Sen. Barack Obama won a landslide victory in the state of his birth last night as an unprecedented turnout at the Hawaii Democratic caucus overwhelmed precinct volunteers and party officials.
With 100 percent of precincts counted, Obama had 28,347 votes, or 75.7 percent, to 8,835, or 23.6 percent, for U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York.
Excitement about Obama, who graduated from Punahou School and represents Illinois, raised interest in last night's caucuses to record levels. Party officials had expected a larger-than-normal turnout and printed 17,000 ballots. It proved well short of the more than 37,000 votes cast and many precincts resorted to handing out scraps of paper to voters to write in their choice.
In comparison, the last caucus in 2004 had a total of nearly 4,000, which had been considered a strong turnout.
But last night's turnout caused myriad problems throughout the state. Many would-be voters walked away frustrated while others were turned away.
The Democratic caucus preference poll will dictate how many of the 20 pledged delegates from Hawaii will go to Obama; however, that exact count was unclear as of press time. Hawaii also has nine unpledged superdelegates, giving the state a total of 29 votes at the August Democratic National Convention in Denver.
Hawaii became something of a national political player this year because the caucus time was moved from March to February.
The state was expected to go to Obama, but Clinton launched an all-out effort by bringing in Chelsea Clinton, the 27-year-old former first daughter. Also, Hawaii's senior U.S. senator, Dan Inouye, who backed Clinton, returned from Washington to vote last night.
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JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
People waited last night in a line that snaked around the cafeteria and through the campus at Kawananakoa Middle School in Nuuanu. Thousands of supporters for the Democratic candidates came to vote, overwhelming staff and parking resources, and causing delays.
Hawaii Democrats appeared in record numbers yesterday turning their caucus into a love fest for homegrown presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.
With all precincts reporting, Obama had 28,347 votes, or 75.7 percent, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton had 8,835, or 23.6 percent, according to the Democrat Party's "preliminary final" figures released after 12:30 a.m. today.
Obama supporter U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie called Obama last night to describe the scene at Manoa Elementary School where hundreds were standing in line.
"He (Obama) said he was overwhelmed with gratitude and joy," Abercrombie said.
Obama's victory in Hawaii makes 10 wins in a row for the 46-year-old Illinois Democrat, attorney and community organizer who was born in Hawaii and graduated from Punahou School. The victory means that the majority of 20 pledged delegates for Hawaii will go to Obama.
The local campaign has been hard fought with surrogates waging the battle for both Obama and Clinton, D-N.Y.
In the past month, Clinton slipped from her front-runner position as Obama won more states, collected more delegate votes, and raised more money than the former first lady.
Obama state coordinator Andy Winer said the Obama campaign would now move to include the Clinton supporters in a statewide effort.
"The first thing we have to do is keep working to secure the nomination ... then we have to work together to bring the party together and work with Sen. Clinton's supporters to make sure we have a Democrat in the White House in November," Winer said.
Clinton put on a strong show before the votes were counted in Hawaii thanks to the early support of some of the Hawaii Democratic political establishment.
U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) led the campaign for Clinton, which brought in the politically potent Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest union.
As the delegate returns were coming in to the Democratic Party headquarters at Ward Warehouse last night, Inouye noted that the national election "is not over yet."
But in Hawaii, the night belonged to Obama.
"It was wild. I think this is how people are showing their support for Obama," said Chris Chang, who voted at Wilson Elementary School.
On the Windward side, Mike McCartney, the former Democratic Party chairman, said he had never seen so many people crowding the Kailua High School parking lot.
"There could be a thousand people, it is overwhelming," McCartney said.
At 8 p.m., McCartney, who was helping count ballots, said that Obama was clearly winning in the Windward precinct.
"There is an energy in this room I have never felt, and I was a member of Jesse Jackson's Rainbow Coalition," McCartney said.
In Waianae, Hanabusa reported that her precincts were swamped with new voters. So many Democrats came out, the party officials ran out of ballots and resorted to recording their choices on scraps of paper.
"We had people writing on pieces of yellow paper," Hanabusa said. "I don't think anyone was interested in issues, the common comment was that Obama is a local guy and he is from here.
"I wouldn't be surprised if there is also a good showing for him out here," she said.
Chang said, "I didn't see any sign of Clinton support at our precinct, not a shirt, not a sticker, it was overwhelmingly for Obama."
Although last night belonged to the Democrats, the Hawaii Republicans must wait until their May convention to pick a candidate. Sen. John McCain won in yesterday's GOP primary in Wisconsin and he said he is confident he will win the GOP nomination.
Willis Lee, the Hawaii GOP chairman said he doubted Obama could win in November.
"I am confident that Hawaii voters will look beyond his lofty rhetoric and realize that his inexperience does not qualify him to be commander in chief," Lee said.
According to national reports, some strategists have said Obama's win in Wisconsin and Hawaii yesterday have put Clinton in a must-win situation in Texas and Ohio next month to keep her campaign afloat.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Pandemonium reigned as voters lined up to register to vote in last night's Democratic caucus at Jefferson School in Waikiki.
But Inouye, a strong Clinton supporter, said she will hang in there until the national convention.
"There are other races. It would be helpful if she won," Inouye said at Jefferson School in Waikiki.
Despite backing the losing candidate, Inouye called last night's vote "historic."
"The only thing I can compare this to is the vote for statehood," Inouye said.
Thousands of voters lined up well before the precincts opened last night in what many say were record-breaking numbers for any election in Hawaii.
"I think this is historic," Inouye said. "It's the first time since I voted that I've seen a turnout like this."
Marco Polo resident Patricia Shields said she volunteered at the 2004 Hawaii caucus in Niu Valley, where the number of voters barely filled the room.
"I am thrilled that people are so jazzed up," Shields, 56, said. "The caucus in 2004 wasn't widely advertised. People didn't even know there was a caucus or what one was. And this year, everyone's excited to participate in the caucus."
Many of the voters last night said it was their first caucus and they were compelled to vote because of the excruciatingly close race.
"This is the first time I've ever been so interested and excited in a presidential campaign," said Mary Chan, 74, an Obama supporter. "I'm voting for Obama not only because he's born and raised in Hawaii but because I believe in him."
Konrad Ng, the husband of Obama's half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, greeted supporters at a rally at E&O Trading Co. at Ward Center. Obama supporters at the rally included Hawaii-born actress Kelly Hu and Daniel Dae Kim, of the TV show "Lost."
Ng told supporters that his wife wanted to attend, but was too ill to make an appearance, having come down with the flu after a busy week of campaigning for her half brother.
"Thank you, everyone in Hawaii tonight, who stood up for change," Ng told the throng of about 50 people.
Although the caucus generated widespread excitement, many voters were frustrated with the experience.
"This is a mess," said Dennard Byrd, 62, of Kapahulu, at Jefferson School. He began waiting in line before 5 p.m. and was told to move to another line an hour later.
"You've got a whole lot of elderly and upset people for miscommunication that could have been sorted out at the beginning," said Byrd, an Obama supporter.
Star-Bulletin reporter B.J. Reyes contributed to this report.
Thursday, February 21, 2008
» Konrad Ng is the husband of Maya Soetoro-Ng, U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's half sister. This story originally misspelled his first name.