The Honolulu Advertiser
Monday, February 18, 2008
By Christie Wilson
Advertiser Neighbor Island Editor
WAILUKU, Maui — The fight for the Democratic presidential nomination is so compelling that even registered Republican Dr. Gary Hargrove came out yesterday to see Chelsea Clinton at a Maui campaign rally for her mother, Sen. Hillary Clinton, that attracted a crowd of 200.
"We just want to participate in the political process. With so many exciting things going on, we wanted to be here," said Hargrove, accompanied by his wife, Jane, a registered nurse.
Although admittedly caught up in the moment and sporting a "Hillary" campaign sticker across his forehead, the Spreckelsville physician said he is still undecided about whom he will vote for in November.
While it was clear at the Maui rally that Clinton has the support of many Democratic leaders in Hawai'i, the senator from New York also will need to sway Republicans such as Hargrove and independents, according to Lance Holter, chairman of the Democratic Party of Maui.
Eight Democratic caucuses will be held tomorrow on Maui and Lana'i, and Holter said the local contest between Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama is "too close to call."
With "two superstars" facing off, he said about 100 people a day have been signing up to join the party so they can participate in caucus meetings.
"I've never ever seen anything like this before. This is the biggest event since John Burns and statehood. People are really lit up," said Holter, who would not say which candidate he is supporting.
On Saturday, Obama's half sister Maya Soetoro-Ng attracted a similar-sized crowd when she spoke at a Maui Democratic Century Club luncheon in Waikapu.
TRIED HER HAND AT HULA
At yesterday's rally, Chelsea Clinton, wearing a sleeveless, short black dress and a lightweight olive-green sweater draped over her shoulders, was accompanied by state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, co-chair of Hillary Clinton's Hawai'i campaign, and all three of Maui's state senators: J. Kalani English, Shan Tsutsui and Roz Baker.
The lei-bedecked former first daughter watched a keiki performance by Iola Balubar's halau before reluctantly taking the stage to give it a try at the urging of former Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana, who was unable to persuade Clinton to go barefoot and remove her stylish black stiletto-heeled shoes.
After apologizing for her hula skills, Clinton reminded supporters of the unexpected importance of the state's Democratic caucus and urged their participation.
The rally took place in the courtyard of the David K. Trask Jr. Building in Wailuku, headquarters of the Hawai'i Government Employees Association, which has endorsed Clinton.
HGEA member Arnold Abe, a county wastewater engineer, gave Chelsea Clinton an orchid lei and had his picture taken with her. Abe said he plans to vote for Hillary Clinton because of her support for labor and other core Democratic values.
The Hargroves don't plan to attend the Democratic caucus but said they have been drawn to Clinton because of her proposal for universal healthcare. As medical professionals, the couple said they have seen inequities in the delivery of healthcare services to poor and working families.
"Hardworking people are paying so much out of pocket. It's not right," said Jane Hargrove, who described herself as more of a political independent than her husband.
She also said Clinton has a "more realistic" scenario for pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq than her opponent.
Connie Miller of Kihei and son Vernon Miller, 18, who plan to attend their first caucus tomorrow, said they like the candidate's experience. Connie Miller said she also is excited at the historic prospect of a female president.
"I'll be happy to see that in my lifetime," she said. "I think she has a proven track record and we know where she's from and we know all about her. And I'll be happy to see Bill Clinton right beside her."
RECALLING A 'LEGACY'
Miller wasn't the only one to invoke the name of the former president during yesterday's campaign event, even though Hillary Clinton has tried to assure voters there will be no co-presidency.
Apana recalled Bill Clinton's 2002 visit to Maui to campaign for gubernatorial candidate Mazie Hirono and other Democrats.
During lively remarks, Hanabusa recalled the country's burgeoning economy during the Clinton presidency and referred to his apology for injustices done to Native Hawaiians as part of the "Clinton legacy."
At the rally's conclusion, the public address system pulsed with the Fleetwood Mac song "Don't Stop," which served as an anthem for Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.
Despite the withering heat and close quarters, Chelsea Clinton demonstrated some of her father's renowned aptitude for working a crowd, lingering a good while for autographs and photos.
The Maui rally was her only Neighbor Island appearance, and she was due to leave the state last night.
But the buzz about the Democratic presidential race is likely to continue well past tomorrow's Hawai'i caucus.
Holter said he hopes once the nominee is selected, voters will remember the presidential race is really about restoring traditional Democratic ideals to the White House and not about personalities.
Reach Christie Wilson at email@example.com.
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