Billionaire businessman Donald Trump won the Hawaii GOP caucus Tuesday night to cap another strong night for the leader of the Republican presidential nomination race.
With all of Hawaii’s precincts reporting, Trump had 42 percent, followed by Texas Sen. Ted Cruz at 33 percent, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, 13 percent, and Ohio Gov. John Kasich, nearly 11 percent.
Trump quickly tweeted, “Thank you, Hawaii” after the major TV networks and the Associated Press projected him as the winner.
Victory in Hawaii capped off a strong showing for Trump, who also won in Michigan and Mississippi. Cruz won in Idaho.
Hawaii’s results came later than expected due to a huge turnout among Republicans despite rain and powerful winds throughout the islands.
Voting began at 6 p.m. and was scheduled to last two hours at 44 locations statewide. But GOP Hawaii tweeted out shortly after the scheduled close that voters still in line at 8 p.m. would be allowed to vote.
Andrew Walden, chairman of the Hawaii Republican caucus committee, said the strong voter turnout across the state would delay the end of voting. “There are lines everywhere, and everybody who’s in line gets to vote, and that might take quite a while in a few places,” Walden told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.
Long lines at several caucus sites on Oahu indicated that Hawaii GOP leaders’ hopes for a big turnout were realized, although it fell short of the 20,000 voters that they had predicted. In all, more than 13,300 ballots were cast, according to the final tally.
State Rep. Gene Ward, (R, Kalama Valley, Queen’s Gate, Hawaii Kai), looked out over the lines in the Kaiser High School cafeteria that persisted beyond the 8 p.m. closing time and said, “They just keep coming and coming. This is impressive.”
The last Republican caucus generated 300 votes out of Kaiser, and Ward predicted twice as many ballots would be cast Tuesday night, in part because of the excitement generated by Trump.
Before the voting began, Colin Moore, director of the Public Policy Center at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said he expected a strong turnout tonight.
“All of the Republican leadership, the most well-known Republicans — from Charles Djou to Pat Saiki to Duke Aiona — they’re all supporting candidates who aren’t Trump, and they are not subtle about it,” Moore said. However, Trump “does still seem to have this support.”
Church groups have at times swamped the Hawaii GOP presidential caucuses to win solid local victories for candidates such as Pat Robertson and Mitt Romney, but Cruz, who has appealed to evangelical Christians, failed to ride that support to a win in the islands.
Former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, who is known for his ties to local church organizations, this week endorsed Rubio instead of Cruz. Aiona said he likes Rubio’s youth and prefers his vision in foreign policy and social issues to those of Cruz.
Neither Aiona nor Moore said they saw evidence of an organized effort to flood the caucuses with churchgoers. Aiona said he believes the churches are divided between Cruz and Rubio.
Still to be decided is exactly how Hawaii’s 19 Republican delegates will be divided up among the candidates, but Trump is sure to get the most.
The New York Times calculated that by late Tuesday night, Trump had secured 446 delegates, while Cruz had 347. Rubio had 151 and Kasich 54. A candidate needs 1,237 delegates to secure the Republican nomination.
Moore said Trump has a special interest in the Hawaii race because the national primary to this point has prominently featured accusations about the New York businessman’s alleged racism.
Hawaii is the most racially diverse state in the nation, and “if he could win Hawaii, that would be a very important symbolic victory for him. He can say ‘I’ve won the most diverse state in the nation.’ ”
Other observers say Rubio took the rare step of investing money in television advertising for a Hawaii Republican caucus because he urgently needed a strong showing here. But the Florida senator finished a distant third.
Also receiving less than 1 percent each were former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and retired surgeon Dr. Ben Carson, both of whom remained on the ballot despite dropping out of the race this month.
Tuesday night’s voting was open only to Hawaii GOP party members, but participants were allowed to sign party cards on the spot and then join in the balloting.
Hawaii Democrats will caucus on March 26.
Star-Advertiser reporter Dan Nakaso contributed to this report.