KAHULUI, MAUI — It was a crisp, starry evening in Kahului for the state’s first-of-its-kind GOP caucus.
A dozen Maui residents arrived at Grace Bible Church in Kahului prior to the start of voting, several engaging in civilized, if passionate, debates on the merits of party nominees.
When the polls opened at 6 p.m., voters began to file in. By 6:40 p.m. there was no wait to show identification and begin the voting process, but a fairly steady stream of optimistic voters came and went until the polls closed.
The spirit of the night clearly belonged to Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, with little visible support for Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum.
Orion “Ori” Kopelman, a 50-year-old management consultant who ran for mayor of Maui County in 2010, came the closest to supporting Gingrich, saying he believed the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives was the smartest candidate on the ballot, but came with too much baggage. Ultimately he voted for Romney.
“Having been in business for 25 years, I prefer someone with a business background,” said Kopelman. “I think Romney will make a good chief executive of our country.”
While the crowd skewed older, it was peppered with voters in their 30s and a few young families with toddlers in tow.
Sean Housman, a 35-year-old pastor who served as a poll watcher for Ron Paul, suggested there was a renewed energy within the party as he spoke of his support for the Texas representative.
“I’ve never been passionate about politics, but Ron Paul woke me up,” said Housman. “I’m voting for someone I believe in. Things have to be different, or it’s going to be the sinking of the GOP.”
Ericka Johnson, a 31-year-old waitress who registered with the Republican Party just four days earlier, was moved to tears when speaking of her support for Ron Paul.
“I trust him,” said Johnson. “He has the right ideas to change the path of destruction we’re on.”
Mark Saxon, a 51-year-old case manager, said the overriding reason he voted for Paul was his detailed plan to fix the economy.
“If you look at the numbers, he’s got the only realistic plan to balance the budget,” said Saxon.
Romney supporters turned out the vote as well.
Henry Kahuka, a 70-year-old food manufacturer who has lived almost his whole life in Hawaii, shared stories of his family attending Republican Party luaus in Hana when he was a boy. For 2012, the lifelong Republican’s vote went to Romney.
“Family values are important to Romney, and they’re important to me,” said Kahuka.
Kathy Campbell, a 69-year-old retired teacher, echoed the importance of values in her decision to support Romney, but also added her support was tactical as well.
“I think he’s the only one that can beat Obama,” Campbell. “The others are so far right they can’t get the Democrat and independent votes needed to win the general election.”
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