In just 177 days, the Hawaii Republican Party will know whether it will finally make real inroads in a state dominated by Democrats, or remain mired in the minority.

On the plus side are brand names like Linda Lingle and Charles Djou for the U.S. Congress and a big slate of candidates for the Hawaii Legislature that includes many who waged efforts in 2010. A younger generation of leaders has emerged, like party chair David Chang, 32, and his fiancée, Beth Fukumoto, 29, who is running for a legislative seat.

On the down side are limited financial resources, a native son of the other party running for re-election to the White House and a status quo-backed opposition party that has lost few races since 1954, the pre-statehood election that wrested power from Republicans and gave it to Democrats for the next six decades.

The mood at the Hilton Hawaiian Village’s Tapa Ballroom Saturday was upbeat and passionate, with a sense that things may finally be turing a corner. There was also not a little anger at the policies of President Barack Obama, who most Republicans argue is leading the country into financial ruin and “a socialist direction,” as one member put it.

“They say every year is the most important election, but coming off of 2008 and the financial collapse and the question of where this country is going — the right way or the wrong way — this really is a critical election,” Lenny Klompus, Lingle’s communications guru, told Civil Beat. “This election will determine how this nation and the world are going to be in the future. You can just see it.”

Still the Party of Lingle — or Djou?

Klompus handed out “sticky screen cleaners” to convention attendees — little patches of cloth used for wiping fingerprints off of smart phones. They read “The Choice is Clear! Lingle U.S. Senate 2012.”

Two years out of office, Lingle remains the most visible leader of her party, one with a real shot at winning election to the Senate. But not everyone remains in love with Linda.

“Linda Lingle has basically taken over the Republican Party to use as a campaign organization, and she will dump it when she is done with it just like she did when she used it to run for governor,” said party member Keith Rollman. “Does she agree on anything in the party platform? She is in opposition to everything in it.”

Rollman has his reasons for being upset with Lingle. He’s campaign manager for John Carroll, Lingle’s challenger in the Senate primary.

But Lingle won’t debate Carroll. Rollman said his candidate’s request for equal time to speak at the convention was turned down.

Rollman touched on a touchy subject: the fact that the party is not completely united. That was seen recently in the fight over who should be party chair — Chang replaced Jonah Kaauwai, who was ousted last year — and in the battle between longtime party stalwart Willis Lee and Lingle favorite Ted Liu to become the party’s interim national committeeman.

Liu, a former director of the state Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism, won, but just barely, in a vote earlier this year. On Saturday, there was a vote for a new four-year term for committeeman that begins after the national GOP convention in August — and Liu again prevailed, a big victory for the Lingle wing of the party.

And, while Lingle and Djou are highly credible candidates, the party failed to field a name candidate for the 2nd Congressional District seat that is also up for grabs.

Lingle’s speech to party delegates was respectfully received. But Djou had them hanging on his every word as he described his six months with the Army Reserve in Afghanistan.

Djou, “in the heart of Taliban country,” lived with seven men in a tent with no running water, no indoor plumbing and no privacy.

Djou, who joined the reserves one month after the 9/11 attacks, said most Americans have not been told of the true nature of the “enemy” — in his view, the Taliban.

Their tactics, according to Djou, include handing grenades to Afghani children and telling them they are firecrackers that must be thrown at American service members. On one occasion, he said, it resulted in two children playing catch before the explosions “ripped their bodies to shreds.”

Also not understood, he said, is the courage, bravery and sacrifice of the troops. Djou likened it to the sacrifices that Americans have made in a down economy.

“Our problems today are not as difficult as facing a Taliban bent on pure evil,” he said.

Finances on the Mend

Marcia Klompus, Lenny’s wife and party treasurer, had good news for her colleagues: The GOP had nearly halved their debt to about $69,000 and had enough money to pay the mortgage on their party headquarters on Kapiolani Boulevard.

“Wow, what a difference a year makes,” she said. “I inherited a mess and we were totally in debt and didn’t know how we were going to dig our way out.”

The party dug its way out with the help of a fundraiser last year headed by singer Lee Greenwood, of “I’m Proud To Be An American” fame.

Chair David Chang urged delegates to continue giving, even as little as $10 to $15 a month. And he explained that the Republican National Committee is helping pay for the salary of Nacia Blom, the local party’s executive director.

In March, meantime, the party held its first-ever presidential caucus.

“It was hugely successful, and there were many of us who didn’t know what this was going to be all about,” said Ted Liu. “But the excitement was tangible and amazing. People were standing in line. Pat Saiki stood in line for two hours, and that was a story repeated over and over again.”

And, Republicans are emboldened by the performances of Sam Slom, the lone Republican in the state Senate, and the eight Republicans in the state House.

“The environment would have gone to hell in a hand-basket” were it not for the House GOP, said Minority Leader Gene Ward. He called colleagues like Cynthia Thielen and Gil Riviere “Rooseveltian,” as in Teddy the conservation president.

Ward also said, several times, “Change begins with a question.” He was mimicking Civil Beat’s trademark slogan.

What will Republicans ask voters above all else this election?

A twist on the old Ronald Reagan line: Are you better off after 60 years of Democrat rule?

“Clearly not” argued Chang. “Everybody in Hawaii is a Republican — they just don’t know it yet.”

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