Vice President Cheney flew all night to say aloha to Hawaiians and make a last-minute pitch for their four precious electoral votes late Sunday, the first time anyone on a presidential ticket spared the time and money to campaign on the distant island state since 1960.
"I was in the neighborhood and I thought I'd stop by and say aloha," said a lei-draped Cheney, who was greeted by dancers twirling flaming batons inside the Honolulu Convention Center.
From Sunday morning until Monday night, Cheney had logged 8,270 miles and 221/2 hours aboard Air Force Two as he jetted from one battleground state to the next. He gave up a night's sleep for his Hawaiian detour, touching down at Hickam Air Force Base at 10:03 p.m. local time, or just after 3 a.m. Monday in Washington. He left two hours later, without so much as a chance to wiggle his toes in the sand or hear Don Ho sing.
But he made the most of his time, revving up local Republicans, who were thrilled by the sudden prominence of their state. "Finally, Hawaii counts for something!" said Maryjane Carlos, a 63-year-old retiree.
The Republicans made the odyssey to the outpost in the Pacific after two public polls showed President Bush could win the traditionally Democratic stronghold, surprising strategists in both parties. Bush lost Hawaii by 19 percentage points in 2000, and only two GOP presidential candidates have carried it -- Richard M. Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984.
But Hawaii is home to large numbers of active and retired members of the military -- many of whom turned out to greet Cheney. In 2002, voters elected their first Republican governor in 40 years, Linda Lingle. One of her top priorities has been to attract Asians and Hawaiians to the state GOP. Lester Abellana, 49, a Filipino American and Navy retiree, said he was happily surprised to see other Filipino Americans in line to get inside the rally.
Hawaii, heavily reliant on tourism and benefiting from Japan's improving economy, has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation.
Cheney chided the Democrats by telling the crowd: "Some candidates may take Hawaii for granted -- President Bush and I take it seriously." Democrats dispatched Al Gore and Alexandra Kerry to Hawaii last Friday after Cheney announced his visit. They attended a high school concert in a working-class neighborhood in Honolulu. Both parties, with money to spend up until the end, have been buying advertising on local television stations.
The vice president made repeated appeals to Democrats and independents. "It doesn't matter which party you belong to, or who you have voted for in the past, we're asking for your support," he said.
He also geared his remarks to the heavy military presence on the island and in the crowd. "Our success in the war on terror is made possible by the men and women of our military," he said to thunderous applause.
Cheney's speech was interrupted by a protester who screamed, "Dick Cheney. In two days, you'll be retired!" The protester was quickly drowned out by others shouting, "Four more years!" Protesters also lined the motorcade route to the convention center and shouted in the dark at the vice president's passing limousine.
Cheney referred to Pearl Harbor, just a few miles away, drawing parallels between Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11, 2001. He characterized John F. Kerry as an opportunist without core beliefs. "On vital matters of national security, Senator Kerry offers a record of weakness and a strategy of retreat," he said. "President Bush offers a record of steady purpose and resolute action and a strategy for victory."
After the rally, the vice president, his wife and his weary entourage got back on the plane for a six-hour ride to Colorado Springs, where they appeared at a rally Monday morning. Then it was on to Nevada for events in Las Vegas and Reno before heading to Jackson Hole, Wyo., where the Cheneys planned to vote Tuesday morning.