Canes and wheelchairs speckled the mob of voters that stretched out the doors of Kalani High School’s cafeteria into Kahala’s nighttime air. Volunteers shouted directions to the crowd, which included large numbers of senior citizens and Caucasians who turned out in droves for the first-ever Republican caucus in Hawaii.

More than 80 people had gathered before the paper ballot voting even began, and volunteers estimated that a total of several hundred people came out in District 18 and 19, which includes Hawaii Kai, Diamond Head, Kahala and Kaimuki. Voting remained strong throughout the evening, and poll workers finally finished with the last of the ballots by 8:30 p.m.

The nation’s fiscal policy was the top concern among voters interviewed by Civil Beat, many of whom brushed off hot button social issues, such as abortion and birth control that have become central issues in the national election.

“I’m pretty sure people can afford $9 a month to buy a month’s supply of birth control at Target if it’s an important issue to them,” said Charles Oconner, 64, as he stood in line to vote for Mitt Romney. He called the debate over a requirement that health plans cover birth control “a canard” that was diverting attention away from more salient issues, namely balancing the budget.

George Issacs, 79, dressed in a black suit with a striking head of white hair, was also there to vote for Romney, citing his fiscal policy and strong business background.

“We’re over $16 trillion in debt and running,” said Issacs, a business and economics professor who teaches at Oxford and the University of Southern California.

The southern Oahu region, which hosts some of the state’s wealthiest neighborhoods, is one of the few pockets where the Republican Party has made inroads in Hawaii. It’s represented by Sen. Sam Slom, the lone Republican in the Senate, as well as Rep. Barbara Marumoto, one of only eight Republicans in the state House.

Slom, there to vote for Rick Santorum, stayed for more than an hour shaking hands and chatting with constituents.

He had a scathing rebuke for President Barack Obama’s administration and said he was voting for Santorum, in part because he was the candidate best able to connect with the people.

“People understand that he is able to do his own shopping and pay for his own gas,” said Slom. “And I think he’s probably more in touch with the economic and social needs of a greater number of people.”

While Romney had many supporters in the crowd, Santorum’s wins in Alabama and Mississippi earlier in the day energized some voters who said the former Pennsylvania senator had the best chance of winning.

Jean Christensen, 42, a lawyer who grew up on Maui, said that her vote for Santorum was strategic. She said that she doubted Romney could win in the general election and that it was “a matter of stopping Romney’s momentum.”

Some of her top concerns were political corruption in Washington, tax handouts to green energy companies and “Obamacare.”

But the nation’s debt seemed to be the dominant issue on people’s minds.

Pepi Pesentheimer, 72 and a native of Austria, stood in line wearing a straw hat and khaki shorts. He said he supported Romney because of his business background.

“The Obama administration is leading us to the poor house with the national debt exploding,” he said. “If this was a family going into this kind of debt they would go to debtor’s prison like in the old days.”

Kahala caucus

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