A different bird: Saturday's Hawaii Democratic caucus might not turn out the way you expect

If you look at most of the states that have had presidential preference contests thus far, an obvious pattern emerges: states with caucuses as opposed to primaries tend to go toward the candidate that strikes a chord with the most passionate wing of a given party.

Hence, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz's tendency to win Democratic and Republican caucuses, which draw out more active members of the party (participating in one can be much more involved than standing in a line and filling out a ballot).

Primaries, meanwhile, tend go in favor of the candidates with the most name recognition — which is probably why Secretary Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won in in the Florida, among others.

There are some obvious exceptions, of course.

Sanders won primaries in New Hampshire and Michigan (and barely lost the Iowa caucus), and Trump won the Nevada Caucus. Sanders and Cruz won their respective primaries in Oklahoma. Ohio Governor John Kasich won a primary in his home state as well, and Sanders and Cruz won their home state primaries as well.

Hawaii, which is among three states to have a Democratic contest on Saturday, may shake out a little differently, says one political observer.

Anthony Pignataro, editor of Maui Time Weekly (and one-time mentor to this reporter, who cut her teeth at said publication), says Maui's strong progressive community, which packed the house at Maui Plantation to see Sanders' wife, Jane, speak, in recent years has had enough of a voice to get voters to sign off on a GMO ban, but he's not sure the same can be said for Sanders.

"He's definitely riding the same wave of supporters who fueled a recent ballot measure that attempted to ban GMO cultivation in the county (though successful at the ballot box, the measure was later thrown out by the courts)," Pignataro said in an email. "At the same time, though, Clinton is generally favored to win the state."
He said while there's no real polling being done, (Hawaii is not exactly a high stakes state), but UH Political Science professor Colin Moore, who "makes the rounds" at election time and correctly forecast Trump's win in the states caucus, has predicted a win for Clinton.

This, despite the fact that Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard left her post as Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee to protest the DNC's apparent support of Clinton over Sanders.

"[Gabbard] is very popular out here, but she's certainly not beloved in a way that [Paia, Maui-born former Congresswoman] Patsy Mink was," Pignataro said. "Sanders is using her in commercials, and if [he] gets the nomination she's certainly on the short list for VP. But Gabbard represents all of Hawaii outside of Honolulu, while most of the voters are in Honolulu, so in practical terms her influence may be small."

That means 2016 could be a slightly different animal than 2008, when Hawaii-born Barack Obama was on the roster against Clinton and his Aloha State ties likely helped him there. He said the caucus he went to at Maui's Baldwin High School was a "circus," but the 2016 excitement on Maui has been thus far limited to Jane Sanders' appearance, a Clinton field office in Wailuku and a sign-waving for Clinton that took place Thursday.

He said there have been a handful of campaign events two islands to the west, on Oahu.

As is the case with many states, Clinton's supporters come from Hawaii's Democratic establishment: Governor David Ige and former Governors Cayetano, Ariyoshi and Waihee, Senators Brian Schatz and Mazie Hirono and Honolulu Rep. Mark Takai.

"Every other day it seems I get an email from the Clinton camp listing huge numbers of prominent Asian-Americans, women, native Hawaiians, etc. out here who are backing Clinton. A few unions out here are backing her, too," he said.

As for how the Republican side ended up — i.e. not going for Cruz or even Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on March 8 — that could boil down to the unique party dynamics in the state: namely there aren't many Republicans, and organization within the party has been scant.

"They're like a kid who got locked in the attic 50 years ago and has had to wear rags and eat scraps. They haven't held real power in Hawaii since Eisenhower was president. Even when Republican Linda Lingle was governor, their numbers never really rose in the Legislature, and they're pathetically low now," Pignataro said. "Half the Republicans in the state seem to spend their days denouncing the other half of the party as RINOs. With that kind of dysfunction, how could Trump lose?"

Read Pignataro's piece on the Republican candidates, which he said got him some grief from a Trump supporter, here.

Hawaii's caucus is Saturday, March 26, as are those for Alaska and Washington State.

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