Election 2008

Obama Expected to Win Native State of Hawaii

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On Tuesday, the race for the Democratic presidential nomination makes a rare stop in Hawaii for the state's caucuses.

It is not a place known for playing a role in the battle for the White House, but this year is different.

A leading candidate for the nomination has strong ties to Hawaii. In fact, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama was born there.

On a recent weeknight, some 20 volunteers gathered at the Honolulu headquarters of the Obama campaign to participate in a phone bank. There are only two landlines in the office, so everyone used personal cell phones.

Brian Schatz, a former state legislator and the spokesman for the Hawaii Obama campaign, was excited.

"One of the things we're so proud of, with respect to Sen. Obama, is his message: one of unifying the nation around a common purpose. We think he learned some of his best lessons here about diversity — not dividing us, but rather, defining us," Schatz said.

The Obama campaign raised more than a half-million dollars in Hawaii — almost seven times more than New York Sen. Hillary Clinton's campaign. Obama was born and raised in Honolulu and graduated from Punahou School, before attending Columbia University and Harvard Law School.

He still has family in Hawaii and returns regularly to visit. His half-sister Maya Soetoro-Ng is a teacher in Honolulu and one of his strongest advocates. She said she is grateful for all the volunteers the campaign has attracted.

She also told the group that her brother is looking forward to the caucuses.

"He's excited about Tuesday. He asked me to remind everyone that Hawaii is very important, that the country and world is going to be looking at Hawaii, and this is so important that we participate on Feb. 19, that we make sure our voices are heard," she said.

Grace Kalikton is one of about 20 volunteers working for that change. A second generation Filipino-American, she moved to Hawaii from Washington, D.C., shortly after the Clinton administration ended. She arrived on the islands disillusioned, broken-hearted, and wanting nothing more to do with electoral politics, she said — until now.

"When Barack Obama came on the scene, I got re-energized again, and I began to believe again. I have never been as excited," she said.

Local Clinton supporters know they are facing an uphill battle. But, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa says they are prepared.

"What we are looking at, in terms of the Clinton campaign, is going to the people she touched herself when she's visited here. There's a lot of aloha for the Clintons, and the Clintons have had a lot of aloha for the state. We are probably a lot stronger in the rural areas and the neighbor islands and pockets in urban Honolulu. But certain areas, we just think the Obama people will have a better showing," Hanabusa said.

Former Hawaii Gov. John Waihe'e is a Clinton family friend and Hillary supporter. But, given the excitement behind the Obama campaign, he said that either way, the Democrats win.

"It's so typical of us Democrats that we would go with two of the most exciting people at the same time. So the first thing is that it brings revitalization to the party," Waihe says. "And second, it compels us to recommit to what our basic principles are in making a choice between two excellent people. And I hope as a result of all this, you end up with a stronger party."

The 20 delegates at stake in Tuesday's caucuses are not considered a huge prize. But Hawaii voters are excited about their day in the sun of national politics.



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