EWA BEACH — They huddled over the folded up ballots and voter cards in the bed of a red Isuzu pickup truck, illuminated only by one volunteer’s camping headlamp and the headlights from another’s Jeep.
After some fits and starts and one missing ballot, they eventually finished counting and called Republican Party headquarters: Rick Santorum 108, Mitt Romney 82, Newt Gingrich 44, Ron Paul 33.
Voters in one of Hawaii’s GOP strongholds cited the former senator’s “family values” as a social conservative as a key reason for supporting him.
“We believe in the same things. We believe in God and the Constitution, and the role of government is not currently what it is,” said Matt Reynolds, a 35-year-old fitness therapist from Ewa Beach. “We need to get back to a little more sanity on all levels: fiscal, social, foreign-policy-wise, pretty much everything.”
Ewa Beach is one of the state’s most conservative areas, at least according to recent voting history. It’s home to state Rep. Kymberly Pine, one of just eight Republicans in the 51-member Hawaii House of Representatives. Conservative City Council member Tom Berg also lives nearby, but neither he nor Pine — nor Eric Ryan, the vocal Republican activist who used to work for both of them — made an appearance at the two-hour Ewa Beach caucus at Ilima Intermediate School Tuesday night.
The district was then-U.S. Rep. Charles Djou‘s second-strongest in the 2010 general election. Djou won the area 54 percent to 46 percent, though Democrat Colleen Hanabusa unseated him. Ewa Beach was Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona‘s third-strongest House District in his 2010 gubernatorial race against Democrat Neil Abercrombie. The split was 49.8 percent to 49.7 percent in Abercrombie’s favor. Aiona won just one district of 51 in that race.
Ewa Beach abuts the western loch of Pearl Harbor, and the middle school cafeteria where the vote was held Tuesday sits just a few miles from the site of one of history’s most famous military battles. The Pearl Harbor Naval Base and other military installations and barracks are nearby as well.
Only one voter came into the middle school cafeteria wearing military fatigues, but others boasted connections. Frankie McCurley, formerly with the Navy, was the party volunteer in charge of the Ewa Beach operation. Another volunteer — realtor Kevin Rathbun — told Civil Beat he previously held a leadership position in the military. It was his pickup truck that served as the counting location after volunteers were booted from the cafeteria 30 minutes after polls closed.
A Santorum volunteer, 33-year-old Summer Ball, described herself as an “Air Force brat” who has been in Hawaii off and on since the late 1990s.
Ball specifically mentioned her military connections when she said she couldn’t support Paul because of his position on national defense.
Party volunteers helped attendees register to vote and required everyone — even lifelong Republicans — to fill out party membership cards. Party officials hope that the caucus will bring in some new blood and generate some excitement for this year’s races, which include a rematch between Djou and Hanabusa in the First Congressional District and former Gov. Linda Lingle‘s run to replace retiring Democrat Daniel Akaka in the U.S. Senate.
McCurley, now a HECO rate analyst by day, said the party membership cards would discourage Democrats from mucking things up.
All the voters Civil Beat talked to in Ewa Beach said they were regular Republican voters, or at least generally leaned that way. Many said they voted for Lingle in 2006 and for Aiona in 2010.
But Ball said she doesn’t plan to vote for Lingle, now a Republican Senate hopeful, citing Lingle’s opposition to the Blunt amendment that would have overridden President Barack Obama’s contraception coverage rule.
Alexander Kish, a 56-year-old Ocean Pointe resident who works for the Board of Education, said he’s lived in Hawaii for just 13 months, but is familiar with Santorum from when he lived in Pennsylvania, which Santorum represented in the U.S. Senate.
Fifty-five-year-old registered nurse Sandy Javar said she supported Santorum simply because he’s a Catholic. She said she was headed to church immediately after voting.
Maria Oglevie, 57, works at the Navy Exchange as a hair stylist, and has lived in Hawaii since the military stationed her family here. She said she hopes Santorum can turn around the economy, and also said she likes Santorum’s “family value.” Other voters cited his “philosophy” or “values” as reasons for their vote.
Romney supporters cited his economic acumen.
“As a businessman, I feel he can balance the budget,” said 47-year-old Scot Parry, a college counselor for Ewa Beach. Another woman who declined to give her name said she was impressed by Romney’s involvement in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The lone Gingrich voter to speak with Civil Beat in Ewa Beach was 21-year-old Jonathan Surratt, who sported a Reagan-Bush ’84 T-shirt but wasn’t yet born when that election took place. A Honolulu Community College student living in Ocean Pointe and part of a military family, Surratt said Romney and Santorum “are too moderate for my taste” and that he supported the former Speaker of the House for his “sound national security plan.”
More than 30 voters lined up before the polls opened at 6 p.m., and volunteers said some had even arrived 12 hours earlier, at 6 a.m., hoping to vote. After a busy first hour, the last 45 minutes or so were quiet, though everyone seemed to be pleased with the turnout.
A few minutes after polls closed at 8 p.m., a school janitor gently encouraged Republican volunteers to put the lunch tables back into the formation they’d been in before the night started and to clear out of the cafeteria by 8:30 p.m.
I don’t mean to be a jerk, he said, but I live in Kaimuki and have to be back here first thing in the morning.
A few minutes later, the volunteers packed up and went outside. A second school janitor seemed to mock them as they walked out: “So, you guys got a chance?”
John Gollner, a senior Republican aide at the state Legislature and future candidate for the Hawaii House, brushed off the insult and said the GOP doesn’t necessarily expect to topple Obama in his own backyard. But the caucus is an important step to build the local party.
Then he put on his headlamp, and started counting provisional ballots in the bed of a pickup truck.