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Hawaii GOP hoping absence of Obama will help chances

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There is being alone, there is being lonely, and then there is being in Hawaii’s Republican Party.

Since statehood, which was in 1959, the GOP, Hawaii’s second major party, has watched voters regularly vote for the majority Democratic Party.

Still the GOP endures and on Saturday held its state convention in Kapolei.

Fritz Rohlfing, 58, an attorney and chairman of the Oahu GOP, was elected state chairman, beating Mike Palcic for the leadership slot.

Rohlfing, the son of former state GOP legislator Fred Rohlfing, is an old hand at local GOP politics, having run the Hawaii Romney for President campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

He is now hoping that next year’s presidential politics will serve as an organizing tool or even a breath of life for the GOP.

Next March’s GOP presidential caucus will again involve Hawaii. Rohlfing is hoping that the national excitement will translate into some local political activity.

"Last time, the caucuses brought more into the party and we are all hoping it will boost the groundwork needed for a campaign," Rohlfing said.

The thinking is that with nearly two dozen candidates jumping into the GOP presidential sweepstakes, there is bound to be one candidate that excites a new local voter who will then stick around to help the GOP in the 2016 state elections.

"We are getting ready to integrate the new people coming into the party, because of the presidential primary, with some of our old hands — and together this will combine into a serious ground game," Rohlfing said during a Monday interview.

There is evidence of this already working, Rohlfing said, pointing out that the former chairman of the Ron Paul presidential committee, Andres Mukk, is the party’s vice chairman for communications.

Noting that four years ago, the presidential primary increased party registration and that 10,000 voted in the caucus, Rohlfing figures next year’s caucus is all for the good.

At the same time, next year will be the first time since 2008 that Hawaii has not had local boy Barack Obama’s name on the federal ballot and that also should help the GOP.

"Hawaii people always will favor people from Hawaii that they feel aloha for. It was a built-in advantage, so hopefully, now we can reassess whether the GOP has something to offer — and we hope the answer will be ‘yes,’" said Rohlfing.

Still, there is a lot about the GOP’s past performance that says "no."

With the loss of Gov. Neil Abercrombie in last year’s primary, Hawaii had two gubernatorial elections in a row without an incumbent and the GOP was not able to muster more than 40 percent of the vote.

There is only one GOP member of the state Senate and in both 2007 and last year, GOP state House leaders have switched parties and become Democrats.

At the same time, Hawaii’s most successful Republican, former two-term Gov. Linda Lingle, after losing a race for the U.S. Senate in 2012, has mostly left town, first to teach in California and now working with the new GOP governor of Illinois.

Campaign issues for Rohlfing next year are expected to be the high and unsupervised cost of Oahu’s rail transit system and the added cost of living caused by the Jones Act, which prohibits foreign ships from bringing cargo from the West Coast.

At the end of the election, however, the question will be about translating a representative of the minority Republican Party into a candidate who can get elected by the GOP and Hawaii’s independent voters.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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