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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Will the Obama torrent return?

By Jerry Burris

Tonight, at schools, community centers and other local facilities across the state, the Democratic Party will gather to hold its precinct meetings.

What a difference a year makes.

Last year's precinct meetings were amazing.

A torrent of people, many first-time participants, turned out to sign party cards and cast a ballot for Barack Obama, the presidential nominee from Hawai'i, as their choice.

It is unlikely we will ever see anything like that again.

Tonight's meetings will be far more placid but at some level no less important than the gatherings of a year ago.

Because these meetings, whether Democrat or Republican, are where politics begin. Even in this media-saturated age, the real work of politics begins on the ground.

You can buy all the advertising you want, set up all the high-tech social media networks you can imagine, but in the end, politics begins and ends with the old-fashioned person-to-person business of people talking to one another face to face.

If you think these community gatherings don't matter, cast your mind back to 1988 when the fired-up followers of television evangelist Pat Robertson showed up at Republican caucuses around the state and elected delegates to the state GOP convention that sent a decidedly pro-Robertson delegation to the national nominating convention.

Sorry, Bob Dole.

Now, it was a foregone conclusion that Obama would take most of the votes in the Hawai'i precinct meetings. Favorite son and all that.

But what really mattered is that his candidacy drew droves of new people into the Democratic Party in Hawai'i. But the experience of the 1988 Republican caucuses is instructive.

A few of the Robertson folks stuck with it and became active, long-term members of the local GOP. But most drifted away, and you can see the results in the dismal showing of Republicans in local elections to this day.

Will the same thing happen on the Democratic side?

Yes, it's exciting to show up on a weekday evening to cast a historic vote for the first serious presidential nominee from Hawai'i.

But what is the long-term commitment to the underlying goals of the party he represents?

In Hawai'i, the fervent disciples of Robertson have largely faded into the woodwork. Is the Obama phenomenon any different?

Tonight's caucuses will help to tell that story.