Isle Dems prepare for
presidential primary poll

13 of 29 delegates will go to
candidates getting 15% of votes

Even as the race for the Democratic presidential nomination tightens across the country, Hawaii Democrats will have a field of six candidates to choose from in the presidential poll to be held next month.

More than 20,000 Democrats will hold an official primary preference poll during precinct caucus meetings Feb. 24 in Hawaii.

Yesterday was the last day for candidates to register to run in the Hawaii poll.

The winners will be tabulated that night, and 13 of the party's 29 delegates to the Democratic National Convention to be held in July in Boston will be awarded to presidential candidates who get at least 15 percent of the vote.

The party will select the entire group of 29 at the state convention to be held in May. The remaining 16 delegates are picked from elected Hawaii officials, the four congressional members and state party officials. Those additional 16 delegates go to the national convention uncommitted.

Alex Santiago, state party chairman, said the interest by local presidential campaigns is helping to revive interest in politics and also the Democratic Party.

"There is an excitement here, and it is bringing new people into the party," Santiago said.

To attend the Feb. 24 precinct caucus meetings, residents have to be registered both as voters and Democrats. At the meetings, they will hear pitches from candidate representatives and vote. The precinct officials phone in the results to the state Democratic Party.

Supporters of the six candidates -- former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, Sen. John Kerry, Sen. John Edwards, former Gen. Wesley Clark, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Sen. Joe Lieberman -- have put their names on the Hawaii ballot.

Although Dean had slipped from his front-runner status after failing to win in the Iowa and New Hampshire contests, his local committee head, Joshua Wisch, says Dean supporters are still encouraged.

"The plan is to go ahead and get as many people as we can and get as many votes and as many delegates as we can," Wisch said.

While Dean has benefited from the support of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and former Gov. Ben Cayetano, other campaigns are also getting some local help.

Former Hawaii Democratic Party Chairman Richard Port is leading the Kerry campaign, and the Edwards campaign is getting local help from former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono.

Kucinich has drawn the support of Bart Dame, former head of the Rainbow Coalition in Hawaii.


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