Although Tuesday was clearly Rick Santorum’s night with his primary victories in Alabama and Mississippi, late Tuesday and early Wednesday belonged to Mitt Romney. With near final returns in from Hawaii, the former Massachusetts governor had won the Aloha State’s first-ever caucuses to determine delegates to the national convention. Romney rolled up about 44.8 percent of the vote, followed by Rick Santorum with 25.4 percent, Ron Paul 18.7 percent, and Newt Gingrich 11.2 percent.
So Romney will end up with the bulk of Hawaii’s 17 national convention delegates. Coupled with the handfuls of delegates he came out of Alabama and Mississippi with and his sweep of America Samoa’s entire delegation, Romney’s win in Hawaii brings him almost to the half-way point of the 1,144 delegates he needs to secure nomination in Tampa this summer.
But the real story out of Hawaii was the unexpected large turnout at caucuses throughout the island-state, which claims President Obama as a native son. More than 10,000 participants came to high school gyms and private homes to make the caucuses happen.
As veteran Honolulu political reporter Malia Zimmerman told HUMAN EVENTS this morning, “Hawaii’s first-ever presidential caucus was a smashing success. While most in Hawaii rightly believe the Democrats have a stronghold here, and that Obama is unbeatable in the 50th state this election, Hawaii Republicans received a much needed morale boost. Many Republicans who waited in line for nearly 90 minutes to vote said they thought there would be about 10 people at their polling place and they did not know there were so many Republicans in our state.”
For their part, all of the presidential candidates made spirited efforts in the caucuses. Party leaders such as former two-term Rep. and 1990 U.S. Senate nominee Pat Saiki came out for Romney, while long-time conservative activists such as State Sen. Sam Slom were in the Santorum camp. Ron Paul also had a strong following among young people. Nicholas Gregory, a University of Hawaii undergraduate, was president of the campus Youth for Ron Paul group with more than 160 members.
Recalling how the party leadership gave a cold shoulders to young Paul enthusiasts in ’08, Malia Zimmerman noted that “unlike four years ago, the party embraced them rather than shunned them, and that could lead to a more energetic, fiscally conservative party in the future.”