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Kucinich Focuses on Oft-Ignored Hawaii

Caucuses Give Hope for Long-Shot Win

By Rita Beamish
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, February 24, 2004; Page A11

HONOLULU, Feb. 23 -- No other Democratic presidential candidate bothered to campaign in Hawaii, but Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich (Ohio) came for the second time Sunday, confident that Tuesday night's caucuses will be his strongest showing so far.

That is not a high bar for Kucinich, as his best finish to date was the 16 percent he won in Maine's caucuses. But Hawaii's low-key caucuses, typically attracting 3,000 or so participants, offer a better chance for a long shot with an energetic organizing team to compete with the front-runners.

Democratic presidential hopeful Dennis J. Kucinich talks to a small crowd at the University of Hawaii's West Oahu Campus in Honolulu on Sunday. (Lucy Pemoni -- AP)

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"Don't ever sell yourself short with the power that you have. Tuesday is your turn," Kucinich told about 50 supporters who gathered at the University of Hawaii's campus in West Oahu. "People are looking for a new direction. This race is far from over. Now, granted, I'm back in the pack, but so was Seabiscuit."

The Ohio congressman's liberal message -- for gay marriage and universal health coverage and against the Iraq war and free trade treaties -- also got an enthusiastic response from more than 200 people at a downtown Honolulu theater. He wrapped up his trip with a quick stop on Maui.

Hawaii has 20 delegates to the Democratic National Convention at stake in Tuesday's caucuses. It joins Utah and Idaho in holding contests that day that are overshadowed by the 10-state, mega-delegate contests a week later.

Hawaii's caucuses are typically below the radar screen for most islanders. They are run by Democratic Party loyalists who network with one another but do not bother with television ads, mass mailings or other electioneering to enlist broad public support.

That changed somewhat this year with early organizing for former Vermont governor Howard Dean, who appeared poised to storm the caucuses before suspending his campaign without winning any contest, and the two visits by Kucinich that drummed up more interest.

The two campaigns each signed up hundreds of new party members, Kucinich taking the lead, according to state party headquarters, which anticipates record turnout. Party membership is a precondition for participating in the secret-ballot caucuses.

Conventional wisdom holds that Sen. John F. Kerry (Mass.), with key party establishment support, will add Hawaii to his string of victories. But many observers foresee a more mixed result, because of networking by Dean and Kucinich, and more recently by Sen. John Edwards (N.C.).

Kerry is backed by the state's senior senator, Daniel K. Inouye, a fellow war veteran. In a rare pre-caucus campaign event, Inouye held a news conference with several state legislators last week to tout Kerry's candidacy.

The Dean team hopes for a good showing, to urge his message on the delegate leaders. "Just because somebody's crossing the finish line ahead of you doesn't mean you walk off the track," said Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii), a Dean ally. "We're not going away, and we intend to play a key role in the successful defeat of Bush."

Kucinich's local chairman, Bart Dame, said Sunday's visit gave his candidate a boost going into Tuesday's caucuses. "There's no question it gave us some credible bounce. We're going to do real well," he said.

Not all of Kucinich's backers had faith that Hawaii could turn the race around. "Let's face it: Kucinich is not going to win the presidency," said Charles Frankel, a Dean backer who jumped to Kucinich. But, he said, "The Kucinich campaign reinforces the antiwar movement."

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