Saturday, June 09, 2007

"Aloha, Barack Obama! Hawaiians Love You - Except for Those Who Support Hillary"

There weren't any advertisements. And yet, one warm Saturday morning in May, in the middle of the Pacific, an unpublicized organizational meeting drew some 150 people to a sticky middle-school classroom. But who needs publicity when the project is about Hawaii's favorite son, Barack Obama, who was born in the Islands and graduated from high school in Honolulu.
But the Obama camp might not want to rest on its laurels. Among Hawaii's congressional delegation, nominee support is fractured. The state's senior senator, Daniel Inouye, announced two weeks ago he would support Hillary Clinton. Rep. Neil Abercrombie is supporting Obama, but Sen. Daniel Akaka remains quiet on the matter. "The Democrats in Hawaii are less and less cohesive," says Jim Shon, a political analyst and former state legislator.

Still many are pumped up about Obama's Hawaiian roots. "What's exciting is this idea of aloha being brought to the world," says supporter Lynne Johnson of Honolulu. "After growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, Barack represents that tolerance and inclusiveness and mutual understanding."

The Obama camp has already signed nearly 1,000 supporters in the closed-caucus state where 5,000 came out for the polls in 2004. "I've never seen anything like this, especially at this early stage," says Andy Winer, campaign coordinator for Hawaii, who has worked on local campaigns since 1986. "So far, it's an all-volunteer effort. We don't have paid staff. We don't have a paid media effort. Everything is being done word-of-mouth with no money to speak of."

Perhaps stronger than state pride is the loyalty from the senator's high-school connections at Punahou School. The elite preparatory academy boasts a disproportionately powerful network of enthusiasm and fund-raising potential. Its high-profile alumni--such as AOL founder and former CEO Steve Case, golf superstar Michelle Wie and Pierre Omidyar, the founder and chairman of eBay who joined the school's board of trustees last month--could represent untapped political capital. How's that for aloha?

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