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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, October 23, 2004

Hawai'i Poll: Bush, Kerry in dead heat

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

President Bush and Sen. John Kerry are deadlocked among likely voters in Hawai'i, a surprising boost for the Republican president in a state that many Democrats had considered safe for Kerry.

George W. Bush

John Kerry
The findings of the Honolulu Advertiser Hawai'i Poll suggest that Hawai'i's four electoral votes are in play with just over a week to go before the election. Nationally, other opinion polls have found that Bush and Kerry are essentially tied for the popular vote.

The Hawai'i Poll, taken among 600 likely voters statewide between Oct. 13 and Monday, had Bush at 43.3 percent and Kerry at 42.6 percent. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.

A large number of voters, 12 percent, said they were still undecided, giving supporters of both candidates hope during the final days of the campaign.

With the race so close, Hawai'i could be a factor in the election, which could energize get-out-the-vote drives across the Islands and increase voter turnout.

Although the candidates have concentrated mostly on large swing states such as Ohio, Florida and Pennsylvania, smaller states such as Iowa and New Hampshire — with seven and four electoral votes, respectively — have been important parts of the puzzle because many voters there are undecided. The winner needs 270 electoral votes.

"It is shocking," said Greg Gaydos, an associate professor of political science at Hawai'i Pacific University. "I'd say it's very bad news for Kerry if he's tied in a state like Hawai'i."

Hawai'i's strong Democratic tradition still makes the state favorable for Kerry, several political analysts said, but the Massachusetts Democrat has yet to capitalize even though many voters here appear uncomfortable with Bush over the war in Iraq.

Iraq reservations

A majority of voters interviewed in the Hawai'i Poll believe the Bush administration misled the nation on the rationale for war. Voters also disagreed with the president that the war made the world safer and doubt the United States will withdraw troops from Iraq on schedule.

Even with these reservations, people here have not turned against the president. Nearly a third of the people who plan to vote for Bush described themselves as Democrats while only 5 percent of Republicans say they will vote for Kerry.

"I'm a Democrat but I strongly support what President Bush is doing," said Jun Elegino, a nursing student at Hawai'i Pacific University who serves in the Army National Guard. "He's my commander in chief."

Leilani Anderson-Kaisa, an educational assistant who lives in Wai'anae and has family in the military, said she had voted for Democrats in the past but believes Bush has done a solid job. "I just think he's been a very good president," she said.

Rebecca Ward, the president of Ward Research, which conducted the poll for The Advertiser, said the findings "do not look like traditional Hawai'i."

Hawai'i voters, since statehood, have only chosen Republican presidential candidates twice; Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984. Both Nixon and Reagan, like Bush this year, were running for re-election.

A Hawai'i Poll just before the 2000 election had Democrat Al Gore ahead of Bush 50 percent to 31 percent.

Support from Military

Several voters told The Advertiser that the decision to replace the president in the middle of a war is difficult. Thousands of Hawai'i-based soldiers are deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and support for Bush in the state's large military community may be offsetting the people here who are concerned about the direction of the war.

Many of the Democrats who favor Bush, according to Ward, tend to be Filipino, women and younger voters who may not yet have strong party ties.

Ward also said many voters of Japanese descent who typically vote for Democrats seem to be undecided. She said she found a similar trend during the 2002 governor's campaign, when Linda Lingle became the first Republican to win in 40 years.

"There's still a big 'don't know,' " Ward said. "What that tells me is that they're really conflicted."

Some voters were surprised that Bush was doing so well. Max Botticelli, the president of University Health Alliance, said he voted for Bush in 2000 but has been disappointed. He said the war in Iraq was "ill-advised and poorly implemented." He also disagrees with Bush's opposition to abortion and embryonic stem-cell research.

"I consider it one of my bigger mistakes," Botticelli said of his vote for Bush.

Leaders of both major political parties in Hawai'i see the poll results as an opportunity.

Lingle, who attended the final presidential debate as Bush's guest and campaigned for the president on the Mainland, said Bush's strength here shows that Hawai'i voters are increasingly more likely to look beyond traditional political labels and judge candidates by their actions. The governor said Bush's tax cuts have helped the state's economy and his resolve against terrorism after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks has made people feel safer about traveling.

"People trust him to keep the country safe," Lingle said. "They don't want to have a change in such a dangerous time in the country and the world's history."

Crossing party lines

Many Democrats crossed party lines to vote for Lingle two years ago but her victory did not help Republicans in the state House and Senate. Republicans here are cautious about projecting any potential Bush surge onto other GOP contenders.

"We're just trying to make people more comfortable about voting Republican," said Brennon Morioka, the state's GOP chairman. "There used to be such a stigma here."

Higher voter turnout typically favors Democrats in Hawai'i, but both parties have planned extensive outreach campaigns over the next week to get their supporters to the polls. One wild card could be whether the 21,000 new voters who registered since the September primary will break toward one candidate or party.

Jadine Nielsen, the state coordinator for the Democratic National Committee, said she remains confident that Kerry will win in Hawai'i. She said U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, D-Hawai'i, is mentioning the importance of a Kerry victory during events for his re-election campaign. The senator has also prepared recorded telephone calls to voters in support of Kerry.

Nielsen believes that Inouye and Kerry, both decorated combat veterans who have been critical of Bush's handling of Iraq, will carry weight among military families and people who oppose the war.

"It's clear that Bush has the wrong priorities and has taken us in the wrong direction," Nielsen said. "I think our message will resonate."

Brickwood Galuteria, the chairman of the Hawai'i Democratic Party, said the party had paid for local Kerry radio advertisements and is considering a local television ad purchase. The Kerry and Bush commercials that have run in Hawai'i have been national television buys.

"No panic buttons from me," Galuteria said. "We just have to work it hard. I have confidence in our voters."

Larry Church, a builder in Hilo, Hawai'i, said he respected the fact that Kerry served in Vietnam but had the courage to speak out against the war when he came home. Some veterans have felt that Kerry betrayed them, but others see his stand as a sign of strength.

"He was probably carrying a lot of people's concerns," Church said.

Christina Cernansky, who recently graduated from Florida Atlantic University and is living here while caring for her aunt, said she favors Kerry for his support for abortion rights and believes he will protect the environment better than Bush. She also said Kerry would help repair America's image internationally, which she believes has been tarnished by Bush's policies in Iraq.

"He's seen the faces of war," Cernansky said as she marched in a Kerry rally near the state Capitol yesterday. "It gives him a completely different perspective."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

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