HONOLULU, HAWAII – Early Wednesday morning, the Hawaii GOP reported that with 100 percent of the votes counted at its first-ever presidential caucus on Tuesday, Mitt Romney had 45 percent of the vote, followed by Rick Santorum at 25 percent, Ron Paul at 18 percent, and Newt Gingrich at 11 percent.
The caucus held the evening of March 13 across the state to determine the number of delegates for each presidential candidate was a smashing success – so much so, party volunteers and organizers were totally unprepared for the nearly 10,239 people who turned out to vote for their favorite candidate.
At Kalani High School in East Oahu, Republicans lined up before the doors opened at 6 p.m. and continued to flood the school cafeteria until the doors were supposed to close at 8 p.m. They didn’t close on time because of the crowd, and more people continued to straggle in.
Russell McGuire, a Ron Paul supporter who volunteered as a poll watcher at Kalani High School, helped organize voters as they arrived. There were just five Republican volunteers on site to help check in nearly 600 people, he said, which was not nearly enough.
“This was a learning experience. With just five volunteers, they were setting themselves up for failure. But people jumped in to help after they voted and we got it done.”
Part of the problem – people were not aware they were supposed to bring their party card or postcard from the GOP, so they had to re-register with the Republican Party of Hawaii. That – and a much bigger turnout than expected – led to precincts such as Kalani High School temporarily running out of party cards and even voter registration forms. Some people waited more than an hour for the cards to arrive from party headquarters.
McGuire said despite the problems, most people were excited about participating, even if it meant waiting. He hopes Republicans will hold caucuses like this in future elections and that Democrats do as well.
At Jefferson School on Kapahulu Avenue, Dale Evans spent one hour and 15 minutes in line with a couple of hundred people in front of her. She was finally allowed to vote 45 minutes after the polls were supposed to close at 8:45 p.m. She said that polling place finally closed around 9:15 p.m.
Republicans who showed up at Kainalu School in Kailua where they usually vote in the primary and general elections, were misdirected to Castle High School by a volunteer at party headquarters. After waiting in line for more than an hour at Castle, they were told they should have been sent to Enchanted Lake Elementary, another 20 minutes drive the opposite way. Fortunately, a GOP volunteer allowed them to cast their vote anyway. But lines were long at Castle as well because like Kalani, there were only five volunteers.
Congresswoman Pat Saiki, who earlier endorsed former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, said it was “wonderful” to see so many Republicans together in one place. At first she was not supportive of a caucus idea, she said, but participating in the event changed her mind.
Sen. Sam Slom, a Rick Santorum supporter, said he has “never seen so many Hawaii Republicans in his life, not even at the annual state conventions.”
“God bless competition and God bless all the candidates,” Slom said.
Chris Baron, a Kuliouou Neighborhood Board member and one time House candidate, said this was a great opportunity to give input into who should be the next presidential candidate.
The caucus attracted many young people who support Congressman Ron Paul including Nicolas Gregory, President of the Youth for Ron Paul at the University of Hawaii, a group with around 160 members.
Gregory said he isn’t a “party” person, rather he votes for the candidate who best represents his principles. While Gregory had no problems casting his vote at Kalani High School, there was at least one college student who called him to complain she was turned away from voting in a district near the University of Hawaii after waiting for more than an hour, he said.
This is the first time Hawaii’s GOP held this type of event, which allowed all state Republicans to vote for their favorite presidential candidate and add to the national delegate total count at one of 41 districts.
There was considerable excitement leading up to the caucus, especially with independent rallies held by Ronnie Paul, Elizabeth Santorum and Matt Romney, children of Presidential candidates.
Hawaii is not a winner take all state, rather candidates are rewarded by their total vote count. The higher the turn out the more competition for the 17 delegate votes that will help candidates nationally get the presidential nomination. Those unhappy with the four candidates were able to write in their own favorite candidate’s name.
The candidates will be awarded delegates depending on the outcome of the primaries and caucuses. The winner will need to woo 1,144 delegates to win the Republican nomination. The winning presidential candidate will be announced in August at the National GOP convention in Tampa, Florida, and that nominee will take on President Barack Obama, a Democrat, in the November General election.
Republican Party Chairman David Chang said he realizes there were many organizational problems, in large part because of the larger than expected turn out. However, he said the participation shows the Republican Party in Hawaii is alive and well and “we are relevant.” He hopes those who showed up at the polls on Tuesday night carry over that enthusiasm through the General Election.
Hawaii’s caucus coincided with primary elections in Mississippi and Alabama, which Santorum won. American Samoa also had a primary election.