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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, February 25, 2004

Kerry wins state caucus

Hawai'i Democrats gathered at the Manoa District Park recreation center last night in the hopes of giving their favorite presidential candidate some delegate votes in the Democratic National Convention.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry won over the majority of Hawai'i Democrats in last night's presidential preference poll, taking about 46 percent of the votes, according to preliminary results.

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, considered a longshot candidate, took second place in the poll with 30 percent.

With more than 90 percent of the poll votes counted, Massachusetts Sen. Kerry is expected to receive 12 of Hawai'i's 20 pledged votes in the Democratic National Convention in Boston this summer. Kucinich is projected to receive the remaining eight votes.

Preliminary results showed North Carolina Sen. John Edwards received about 13 percent of the votes, just shy of the 15 percent required to receive a delegate vote. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean and retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, who both dropped out of the race, received 9 percent and 1 percent of the vote, respectively.

Tom Heinrich, center, chairman of Democratic Party District 24 in Manoa, gives instructions on how voting in the party's presidential preference poll will take place. He said last night's turnout was the best in a long time and that one-third of them joined the party that night.

Doug Lamerson of Manoa filled out a Democratic Party form so he could vote in the presidential caucus last night at the Manoa park.

Elmer Ka'ai, left, and Salvatore Lanzilotti count the caucus ballots for District 24, Precinct 4. Sen. John Kerry was the winner in Hawai'i.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Hawai'i Democratic Party chairman Alex Santiago said close to 4,000 people voted in the preference poll.

He said it was a "record turnout" compared to the 2000 poll that drew about 1,200 members.

Santiago estimated that more than 500 Hawai'i voters have registered in the past two weeks, which he attributed to "anti-Bush sentiment." He said there are an estimated 23,000 registered Democrats in the state.

"To have this many individuals take the time out to register and become Demo-crats is an incredible statement, and I'm not using that term lightly," Santiago said.

Last night's preference poll determined the percentage of pledged delegate votes each candidate will receive from Hawai'i in the Democratic National Convention.

Hawai'i Democrats have 20 pledged delegate votes out of a national total of 3,520 pledged votes in the Democratic National Convention.

The state's Democratic presidential preference polling usually has been included in — and overshadowed by — a Super Tuesday that includes larger states, such as California and New York. Hawai'i Democrats decided this year to move up the polling a week in hopes of garnering more national attention.

Santiago said he has been on the phone with national news organizations, and attributed the increased media interest to making Hawai'i's preference poll earlier.

Yesterday Hawai'i Democrats shared their Super Tuesday with two states, Idaho and Utah. Idaho had 18 votes at stake, while Utah had 23. Kerry also won those states.

For some Democrats, old and new, it was a chance to give their favorite candidate at least some delegate votes in the Democratic National Convention. For others, it was a chance to throw their support behind who they thought would be the best candidate to beat Republican President Bush.

Hawai'i usually is ignored by major presidential candidates because of its small size and distance from the Mainland. Kucinich was the only Democratic candidate to make campaign appearances here, and that appeared to boost his showings.

Former Hawai'i Democratic Party Chairman Richard Port, who is heading the Kerry campaign here, said: "This is a great step forward into Super Tuesday next week with three victories in three different states. He has continued to show that he is a candidate for the entire 50 states."

Bart Dame, co-chairman of the Kucinich campaign here, was "ecstatic," and said the final numbers were better than he expected.

"We knew we were getting delegates prior to his visit but we didn't know by how much of a margin," he said. "I think there's no question that when he came the next time we knew we had about 800 to 900 people who went out to hear him and we knew that was just the tip of the iceberg."

More than 200 people crowded into a warm room in the Manoa District Park's recreation center to vote in the poll. About one-third of them joined the party that night, said Tom Heinrich, District 24 chairman.

"It's our best turnout in a long time," he said. He said the campaigns of Kerry and U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye called Hawai'i residents in the last 36 hours urging them to vote in the presidential preference poll.

Jocelyn Fujii, a freelance writer, also said last night's turnout in Manoa was larger than usual.

"I've never seen this many people before," she said. "I think people realize this is a really, really important election."

Fujii said she likes Edwards, but that she was supporting Kerry because he was the most electable candidate.

Barbara Shirland, a 55-year-old Manoa massage therapist, joined the Hawai'i Democratic Party at the door last night and said she would vote for Kucinich. She acknowledged that he is a longshot candidate in the national picture.

"That's OK," she said. "We're making a statement."

Nick Whitney, a 25-year-old graduate student, joined the Hawai'i Democratic Party at the door last night to support Kerry.

Whitney said he likes Edwards a lot, but that he believes Kerry's military experience and fund-raising capabilities make him the best candidate to face Bush.

Jenny Garmendia, a 52-year-old student, said she planned to cast a vote for Dean even though he dropped out of the race.

"I think there's still room for debate at the convention, and this ensures that there is debate," she said.

Registered voters were able to join the Hawai'i Democratic Party at the door last night to vote in the preference poll. Party members at the meetings were also able to choose delegates to the state convention, set for May 28 to 30.

Hawai'i Democrats have 29 total delegates, 20 of which will be pledged to vote for specific candidates according to the outcome of the presidential preference poll.

Those participating in the state convention will choose 13 delegates to the Democratic National Convention. Hawai'i's congressional delegation will take four slots, and another four slots will go to the state party chairperson, vice-chairperson, and the national committeeman and national committeewoman. The party leadership will select the remaining eight delegates.

Sens. Inouye and Dan Akaka back Kerry, as does Rep. Ed Case. Rep. Neil Abercrombie supports Dean. Democratic national committeeman John Waihee said he backs Edwards, while Port said national committeewoman Marie Dolly Strazar backs Kerry.

Reach Lynda Arakawa at larakawa@honoluluadvertiser.com or at 525-8070.