Mitt Romney won Hawaii’s first-ever Republican presidential caucus Tuesday, taking 45 percent of the vote with a strong showing on Oahu’s North Shore.
The former Massachusetts governor handily beat former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, who had 25 percent, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, with 18 percent, and former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, 11 percent. The four were competing for 17 of the state’s 20 delegates to the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla.
With all 45 precincts reporting, Romney had 4,250 votes, Santorum 2,369, Paul 1,712 and Gingrich 1.034.
The Associated Press reported that Romney was awarded nine delegates, Santorum four and Paul one, with three delegates to be decided.
Romney, a Mormon, was expected to perform well on the North Shore, home to Brigham Young University-Hawaii and the Laie Temple. Early returns suggested the caucus might be a close clash between Romney and Santorum, but the North Shore districts made the result a decisive one for Romney.
Delegates will be awarded to the presidential candidates proportionally based on the caucus vote. More than 9,000 ballots were cast.
Hawaii Republicans used to allocate delegates to presidential candidates at state party conventions, but converted to the caucuses to help build the party. Filling out a party registration form is a requirement before casting a ballot.
The possibility of winning some or all of Hawaii’s delegates has drawn rare attention from the GOP presidential candidates, who also competed today in Alabama and Mississippi primaries and in American Samoa’s caucus.
Romney won the Republican caucus in American Samoa tonight, picking up all nine delegates.
About 70 Republicans in the U.S. territory located 2,300 miles south of Hawaii met at Toa Bar & Grill to discuss the candidates and select delegates for the Republican National Convention in August. At the end, the six delegates chosen and the three superdelegates who will accompany them to the convention all said they would support Romney.
"I believe Romney can fix the U.S. economy that extends to American Samoa. He can turn this country around," said Falemao M. Pili, vice chairman of the local GOP and a delegate.
"I think it’s a wonderful way to spread the Republican message of smaller government and responsible government," said Frederick "Fritz" Rohlfing, the chairman of the Romney campaign in Hawaii. "So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a success no matter what the outcome is."
Warner Kimo Sutton, a Hawaii volunteer for the Santorum campaign, said he was hopeful that the former Pennsylvania senator would add to primary victories on Tuesday in Alabama and Mississippi.
"While we’re very, very hopeful to make it a sweep today, we’re waiting for all the results to come in before we celebrate," he said.
Many voters said they were driven by a desire for change to a federal government they believe spends too much money.
"I came out because I’m not satisfied with what’s going on with our government today," said Larry Lusk, a property manager who lives in Kaneohe. "We should be saving money and we’re not. We’re spending money all over the place.
Lusk said he was not motivated to vote by any one candidate, but thinks conservatives have something to offer this year.
"We need to tighten our belts. I’ve tightened my belt. Most of my friends have tightened their belts," he said. "Our government just doesn’t seem to get the hint."
Several voters said they realize Hawaii is Democratic territory. Hawaii-born President Barack Obama is expected to capture the state’s four electoral votes in November. But the caucuses gave island Republicans an opportunity to have a direct say in selecting the GOP nominee for the first time, so many saw value in participating.
"It’s always good for everyone to be able to have their voice, do what they think is right" said David Parker, a carpenter who lives in Enchanted Lake.
Only registered Republicans could vote in the caucus, and that’s why so few attended. It’s rare in American Samoa for anyone to officially register as a Republican or Democrat because local elected officials don’t run on party lines.
Santorum topped Gingrich and Romney in Alabama and Mississippi with Paul coming in a distant fourth place.
Romney is the front-runner in the delegate count, followed by Santorum and Gingrich.
Although none of the candidates have made a campaign stop in Hawaii, Ronnie Paul, Elizabeth Santorum and Matt Romney crossed the Pacific to rally support for their fathers heading into tonight’s caucus. Newt Gingrich, who spoke to the Maui Tea Party in September, kept his attention on Alabama and Mississippi primaries.
"It’s very exciting," state GOP?chairman David Chang said Monday. "The three campaigns are generating a lot of buzz from voters who might not otherwise have known much about the candidates."
He pointed out that the Paul campaign bought local TV ad time and Santorum paid for a robo-call, both of which are rare investments in national GOP races.
Hawaii voters tend to support Democratic presidential candidates, and as the birthplace of Democratic President Barack Obama, that isn’t likely to change in November. The heightened activity reflects how tight the GOP race is.
45 precincts – 100 percent reporting
Mitt Romney 4,250 45.4%
Rick Santorum 2,369 25.3%
Ron Paul 1,712 18.3%
Newt Gingrich 1,034 11%