LIHUE, KAUAI — On a night when presidential hopeful Rick Santorum basked in the glow of a double ‘Southern Fried’ win in Mississippi and Alabama, voters in the country’s geographically southernmost state went to vote in the state’s first-ever binding GOP presidential caucus.

Barely an hour after Rick Santorum was named the winner of the two southern primaries, voters on Kauai began arriving at The Aloha Church just mauka of the Kaumualii highway in central Lihue where voting began at 6 p.m.

Among the first to vote were Kapaa residents Joe and Gini Stoddard. Joe Stoddard said he was “probably voting for Mitt Romney.”

Why Romney?

“He’s been a governor so he’s got some knowledge of politics and what not … but he gets a little cocky once in a while. No big deal,” Stoddard said. “I’m 90 now and I’ve been through a lot of these elections. Some of them have been good and some of them bad.”

Gini Stoddard said she cast her vote for Rick Santorum. After watching most of the Republican debates she liked Santorum’s “attitude.”

“I like the way he comes across,” she said, “I think he’s honest. I don’t quite have that feeling about Romney.”

Overseeing the voting in Lihue was Department of Land and Natural Resources board member Ron Agor, interim chair for District 15 – Lihue. As voting began with an initial spurt of people, he said he was excited but had told his volunteer staff of eight that it might not be an eventful night but, he said, “I’m surprised. I’m very surprised. People showing up — a steady stream.”

Agor said he supported Mitt Romney saying it is time to select one Republican candidate and turn attention to defeating President Obama in November. “The sooner we get that done, the better it is for everybody.” Agor said he liked the other candidates, but hastened to add: “I have extreme reservations on Ron Paul’s foreign policy … it’s kind of naive.”

Among the early voters in Lihue was William Akana who voted for Newt Gingrich because, as he put it: “I think he’s the only guy who knows what the hell he’s doing. Definitely.”

Worried about another 9/11, Akana said, “we need a strong armed forces.” Beyond that, Akana said Gingrich would be the strongest debater against Obama.

The Lihue caucus site had no signs, no ribbons, no red, white and blue balloons. The one thing it did have was a simple table with Linda Lingle campaign forms and bumper sticker giveways offered to voters as they left the caucus site. Sign-ups were being taken by Lingle for Senate campaign volunteer Laurie Yoshida who said she supported Mitt Romney who she believed has the best chance of beating Obama.

If Romney were not the nominee, Yoshida said Ron Paul was the only one of the four Republican candidates she could not support. She struggled to pinpoint what it was about Paul that she disliked but said, “Overall, I just think some of how he has presented his plans and ideas are something I couldn’t get behind.”

Not everyone had reservations about the tenacious Texan. Among Ron Paul supporters voting in Lihue was Scott Sieverts. At 35 years old, he was among the few under-40 voters tonight. Asked what three issues swayed him to support Paul, Sieverts cited: getting rid of big government, giving more control to the states and ending foreign wars.

“Ron Paul has been right for so many years and people are blind if they’re not seeing it,” he said.

On a night where 35 was youthful and even the guy who showed up to vote for Rick Santorum on a Harley Davidson was no kid, noticeably absent were Kauai’s young people. With a few exceptions, other than young children brought along in tow by their parents, the 18-34-year-old crowd was all but absent.

One 21-year-old who did participate was Jason Burrell of Wailua who voted for Mitt Romney because he said, “I think he’s strong on the military … and I think he can create jobs. I’d like to see ‘Obamacare’ repealed.”

Asked about the lack of young voters, Burrell said he didn’t know of other friends going out for the caucus but said their support was split between Obama and Romney.

Jason Burrell attended the caucus with his parents Rick and Lynne Burrell who both voted for Rick Santorum. Rick Burrell pointed to Santorum’s “conservative values” and being a “straight-shooter” as reasons for voting for him. Lynne Burrell said she wanted to see a president who would develop domestic energy sources, back up Israel and bring US troops home from Afghanistan.

“They don’t want Democracy. They don’t want to do it our way. What’s the point?’” Lynne Burrell said, expressing frustration with the war in Afghanistan.

She had no warm words for President Obama who she said was an “elitist who doesn’t really love America” and is “pandering to Islamic countries.”

Over the course of the evening, a total of 111 Kauai residents cast their votes for one of the four candidates. What began as a steady stream, ebbed and flowed to a slow-flow, then sputtered and spurted until the last 45 minutes was marked by voters arriving in ones, twos and threes.

Unlike the throngs of Kauai voters who came out to support Obama in 2008, overwhelming caucus polling places to the point of chaos, tonight’s GOP caucus in Lihue was slow and steady, but nonetheless left Ron Agor pleasantly surprised. “I’m real excited about it to tell you the truth. I expected it to be less.”

That being said, Agor ran a tight caucus ship, turning down one disappointed voter who drove to Lihue from Poipu only to arrive late — one minute past eight o’clock.

The late arrival pleaded to vote, but Agor was insistent. Voting ended at 8 p.m. — sorry. “Besides, the media’s here,” Agor said, pointing to the reporter standing at the door.

Upset, the man stormed away and, when asked if he had anything he wanted to say to the reporter, hissed an angry “no!” and marched into the night.

Inside The Aloha Church, after an orderly night of (mostly) happy Republican voters, volunteers turned to the task of counting ballots to see who Kauai supported to become the next president of the United States.

DISCUSSION: Share your thoughts on the GOP caucuses.**

Check out Civil Beat’s Hawaii Elections Guide 2012.

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