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Obama still holds passion of the isles

By Mike Gordon

LAST UPDATED: 1:58 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2012

President Barack Obama may be the leader of the free world, but here in Hawaii, in the place he calls home, he’s something more special than that.

Across the state Tuesday evening, as word spread that Obama had won a second term, the people of his home state thought of him as a standard bearer for the values they cherish: family and friendship in a multicultural community.

Hawaii voters once again embraced their favorite son, giving him a 70.6 percent to 27.8 percent edge over Mitt Romney. Support for Obama was slightly lower than in 2008, when Obama won 72 percent of the Hawaii vote.

“I think Hawaii, more than maybe other parts of the country, appreciated what Obama has always been trying to do, which is to take care of your ohana,” said Tom Holo­wach, 61, of Kailua. “I think that this will be seen as a triumph over selfishness and a victory for taking care of those who aren’t as fortunate.”

Obama shows the world that a multicultural community is nothing to be afraid of, said Holo­wach, who manages the Paliku Theatre and met the president after his first election. He lives near Mid-Pacific Country Club and shook Obama’s hand when the president stopped to greet well-wishers along the golf course.

“Hawaii is truly the melting pot that everyone said America was,” Holo­wach said. “America was a soup that had lots of lumps that never congealed. In Hawaii the lumps melted together and became one.”

When Obama was elected the first time in 2008, Hawaii celebrated with an overflowing expression of pride. Four years later the triumph of its most famous native son is still worth celebrating, said Shari Chan, 52, a Kamehameha Schools English teacher who went to Punahou with Obama.

“I definitely think Hawaii will still feel pride,” she said. “There is a sense that he represents some of the things that Hawaii finds important: diversity and taking care of each other.”

But it’s more than that, said Chan, who lives in Kaha­luu. She said Obama showed the world — and will continue to show the world — what Hawaii is capable of producing.

“I think a lot of people have the stereotype of Hawaii as a ticky-tacky-whacky place with umbrellas in our drinks,” she said. “He shows we have top-notch schools here that educate leaders who can compete with the rest of the United States and the world. I think he has shown us in a new light, that people can see us as a power in the Pacific.”

As president, Obama has made Hawaii a regular vacation destination during the Christmas holidays. He goes to the beach, eats shave ice with his daughters and plays basketball with old friends. To some that was seen as extravagant because he was in Hawaii, but Mary Wil­kow­ski, a Hono­lulu attorney and small-business owner, said they forget one key point.

“He is coming home,” she said. “Everyone has a right to come home.”

The values that Obama “shines a national klieg light on” were nurtured here, so it stands to reason that his visits invigorate the president with the things that shaped him, she said.

“He maintains friendships in the state, and I would imagine that refreshment and perspective is really good for him,” she said. “Before he was president, he was island-born and raised.”

Among those friends is Alan Lum, who played basketball with Obama when they went to Punahou. When the president visits, Lum is usually invited to play basketball with his former teammate, who still calls everyone by their nickname.

Obama calls Lum “A-Lum,” but Lum calls his friend “Mr. President.”

“The last four years have been hard on him, but it’s been the same way for his friends,” said the 51-year-old Lum, a second-grade teacher at Punahou who had trouble sleeping the night before the election. “I couldn’t sleep. When he is hurting, we hurt, too. I feel for him.”

Growing up in Hawaii, Obama developed an inner strength — “an underdog mentality” — that the people of Hawaii embrace, Lum said. 

“Resiliency is how you could term his time growing up here,” Lum said. “He was very resilient, and through those times he created some strategies and skills that sway people his way.”

There are some things the president can’t do anymore, even when he comes home, Lum said. He can’t just walk down the street with his children. He can’t hang out at a park or go bodysurfing at Sandy Beach like he did when he was a teenager — like he did during his first campaign.

But if he did hit Sandy’s, perhaps as a way to wash away the exhausting campaign or to just catch the current 2- to 4-foot swell, the bodysurfers would make room in his favorite lineup.

“I think everyone would cut him some slack and cheer him on to catch some waves,” said Kaulu Adams, an 18-year-old college freshman from Kailua who voted Tuesday for the first time — and for Obama, the nation’s first surfing president.

“That’s why I see him as a good president, because my life revolves around the ocean, and to see our president surfing is cool,” Adams said. “I think he’s a big success story. He wasn’t the greatest student in high school, and he became president. He gives Hawaii people an eye-opener: You can do anything you want.”

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