Hawaii Elephants’ Trumpet Time

The last time Hawaii’s Republicans made news in an election year was in 1988, when at their precinct meetings the Rev. Pat Robertson defeated Vice President George H.W. Bush in a nonbinding straw poll. The religious right had turned out across the state, and Robertson won a week or so of bragging rights.

Last week Island Republicans showed up at polling places in each of the 51 state House districts plus Molokai, Lanai and Hana. There they showed a photo ID, filled out a Republican party card and cast their ballots for Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Mitt Romney or Rick Santorum. Fourteen of Hawaii’s 17 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa will be allocated according to the votes they received at the Hawaii caucuses.

As I write, I don’t know who won Tuesday’s balloting across the state. What I do know is that allowing the presidential preferences of Hawaii’s Republicans to become sitting, voting delegates at the national convention was a good idea.

First, it provides an incentive a rallying point, if you will for Republicans to come out and be counted. Nothing’s more important in an election year for any political party or movement.

The turnout at the Hawaii Democratic caucuses in 2008 prove the point. Thousands swamped the precinct meetings to vote for either favorite son Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. Obama won, and in the fall Hawaii gave Obama 74 percent of its total vote, the highest of any state in the nation.

Republicans did not have a favorite son on Tuesday’s ballot, but they had four men whom they had heard debate, seen interviewed and watched campaign across the country men they knew and about whom they had probably formed an opinion. Casting a ballot for one of them in caucus invests that person in the later campaign against Obama.

Second, getting people to sign those Republican party cards is vital to U.S. Senate candidate Linda Lingle, U.S. House candidate Charles Djou and Republican legislative candidates across the state. And, whatever happens to GOP candidates in 2012, those signatures are crucial to rebuilding the state’s Republican Party.

For rebuild it must.

Currently Republicans fill only eight of 51 seats in the state House, one of 25 in the state Senate. In 2010, a big Republican year nationally, the party lost Hawaii’s governorship and one of the state’s two congressional seats. And, sadly, with the exception of Lingle’s two terms as governor, those low legislative numbers have reflected the Hawaii GOP’s weakness for at least the past quarter century.

Third, Republican delegates allocated by this week’s Hawaii votes may really count in the heat of Tampa’s August convention. I mean really.

Late on last week’s Super Tuesday election night, CNN’s John King speculated on what might happen after all the votes were counted. Romney had already won Idaho, Vermont and Virginia; Santorum North Dakota, Oklahoma and Tennessee; Gingrich Georgia.

King gave Ohio (correctly, it turned out) to Romney, then ran the rest of his smart board. The Southern states, he posited, would go to Santorum or Gingrich, and almost all the future states, as Hawaii did Tuesday, would allocate delegates in proportion to the votes they received in primary or caucus.

King foresaw a distinct possibility that Romney would arrive at Tampa without a sufficient number of delegates to win the nomination.

The results of the Hawaii Republican caucuses will be heard faintly in Mainland media centers, but they may well gain resonance come August in Florida.