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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Lingle's revelers ride wave to victory

By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer

Linda Lingle greets friend Dick Jensen during a campaign stop yesterday at Market City Shopping Center with running mate Duke Aiona.

Richard Ambo • The Honolulu Advertiser

Supporters at Linda Lingle headquarters last night had refused to entertain any thought that she wouldn't be Hawai‘i's new governor.

When the final vote tally came in at about 11:30 p.m, a thunder of cheers erupted as the crowd swayed to the music.

"I want to cry," Kymberly Pine said. "It's a great thing for Hawai'i. You don't understand how hard so many of us have worked for this. It's telling the people of Hawai'i and the nation that we want a better state."

University of Hawai'i Law Professor Randy Roth called the moment historic.

"She's the right candidate at the right time," he said. "You could feel this building in the last few days, in the last few weeks."

Gathered early in the evening under a huge white tent in the parking lot of Lingle's Ala Moana Boulevard headquarters, volunteers and supporters waved signs and shiny streamers and danced among white plastic chairs when the first returns showed their candidate with a slight lead.

A huge roar followed by cheers erupted when the second vote tallies, with more than half of the election returns, showed Lingle still holding that lead. Volunteers and supporters sang along with the lyrics "We will, we will rock you," as the numbers came in.

Her supporters got their first glimpse of the candidate shortly before 9:30 p.m.

"There's a lot of emotion tonight, and one reason is that you all worked so hard to get to this point," Lingle told them.

The enthusiasm of her supporters reached fever pitch just after the final results came in.

"It's good for the state to have change, and hopefully she'll keep her word," said Leonard Mersburgh, who plays percussion in one of the bands that performed Hawaiian-style music under strands of white lights. He sat at a table with his wife and two young sons, waiting to go on stage, and repeated the word "change" that had become a mantra for the Lingle campaign.

Lingle, who voted Oct. 25 at Honolulu Hale, started her Election Day campaign at 6 a.m. when she greeted volunteers at her headquarters.

It was the first stop in what the Lingle campaign called her "Twelve Hours to Victory Tour."

After television and radio interviews, Lingle made the rounds of several businesses, including a tour company, air conditioning business, wholesale jewelry manufacturer, American Airlines, Market City Shopping Center, Kahala Mall and Hardware Hawaii in Kailua.

She and lieutenant governor candidate James "Duke" Aiona then waved signs on the Pali Highway and made their last stop at L&L Drive-Inn at Ward Warehouse just before the polls closed.

"The Democrats have taken us for granted," said L&L owner Eddie Flores Jr., who had urged Filipino voters who traditionally vote Democrat to switch to Lingle.

Filipino voters in 1998 overwhelmingly supported Gov. Ben Cayetano, the country's first governor of Filipino ancestry, and their vote yesterday was considered key. Lingle and Democrat Mazie Hirono lobbied hard for support in the Filipino community.

"The hard work I put in is finally paying off," Flores said.

It was Flores who persuaded Democrat Eric Barsatan, 29, to join the Lingle campaign. Barsatan served as the campaign's team leader responsible for 29- to 39-year-olds. Barsatan, who has a full-time job, had put in 12- to 14-hour days with the campaign for the past four months. "Every day, every night," Barsatan said.

He voted for Cayetano in 1998, but said last night he was drawn to Lingle's message of change.

"There's a lot of expectation of what she's going to do," Barsatan acknowledged. "But she's done a great job in Maui County and people will expect the same thing for the entire state."

At least 20 restaurants — from Dixie Grill to Bucca de Beppo to Outback Steakhouse — had pledged to cook for the campaign throughout the night, said volunteer Terry Henrion, who was coordinating the food.

It was impossible to estimate how many people could be fed, Henrion said, because "restaurants are standing by to deliver food. We said, 'When we start running low, we'll take whatever food you can give us.' "

As she spoke, volunteers walked in with platters of sushi, kalua pig, salad and pasta.

Dalton Tanonaka, who lost to Aiona in the Republican primary for lieutenant governor, stopped by early in the evening to wish Lingle well.

He was among the few at Lingle headquarters who acknowledged the race might be too close to call.

"Usually I have a sense of what's going to happen," Tanonaka said. "But I have no idea. All I know is that when I wake up, we'll have a new governor."

Reach Dan Nakaso at dnakaso@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8085.