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Rivals Spreading Blame in Vote Blocking Hawaii GOP Caucuses

January 23, 1988|TAMARA JONES | Times Staff Writer

HONOLULU — Rival Republican campaigns blamed each other Friday for blocking the Hawaii GOP's state caucuses and presidential straw poll in face of certain victory by former television evangelist Pat Robertson.

The party's executive committee voted 6 to 4 in a closed session here late Thursday to delay Wednesday's caucuses indefinitely.

Robertson described the postponement decision as "banana republic" politics and said Vice President George Bush was to blame.

Blame Dole Campaign

Bush's aides said, however, that the move was engineered by Kansas Sen. Bob Dole's campaign to avoid an embarrassing setback at Robertson's hands.

Dole, campaigning in the Midwest, said it was "another operation by the Bush forces to take control of the state committees. Obviously, they (Bush forces in Hawaii) don't have the votes. Every time he has a problem, he (Bush) postpones the vote."

"We look awful bad. It looks like hell," conceded state GOP Chairman Howard Chong Jr.

However, Chong said he still hoped "to get back on line and ready to go within two weeks."

The stumbling block here came after Robertson's workers signed up about 6,000 new Republicans in Hawaii, increasing party rolls by more than 50% over a two-month period.

The strategy of packing the state's 287 precincts virtually assured the conservative former television evangelist of winning the non-binding straw poll. He also stood to claim most of the 1,022 delegates and an equal number of alternates to the state convention, where their ranks would be winnowed to 20 delegates to the Republican National Convention this summer in New Orleans.

Instructions Called Unclear

Chong said that the delay was proposed by Mary George, state Senate minority leader, on grounds the instructions recently drafted for the precincts were too confusing and complicated and that there was insufficient time to validate all new party memberships. George is vice chairman of the Dole campaign in Hawaii. She did not return a telephone call Friday.

Dole, who got his Hawaii machinery in gear a year ago, was considered the leader among Republican hopefuls here until the Robertson putsch . Dole has the backing of more Hawaii officeholders than his rivals.

Jim McAvoy, state campaign coordinator for Bush, denied that the vice president's camp helped engineer the delay.

"How any state party thinks it can run a caucus like this is beyond me," he said.

At Robertson's Hawaii headquarters, spokeswoman Ann Peterson said: "What I make of it is a very scared group of people who would stoop to anything. But we have a righteous kind of case, and no matter what they do, it won't work."

The feud was similar to an intra-party fight in Michigan, in which Robertson's unexpected gains threatened to take away a victory Bush was seeking in county conventions.

Responds With Lawsuits

In the Michigan case, Bush responded with a series of lawsuits contending that the Robertson camp was seeking improper changes in the rules. Bush prevailed in court and won the bitterly contested county conventions as well.

On Friday, in Michigan, meanwhile, there were signs that a conservative coalition composed of supporters of Robertson and New York Rep. Jack Kemp appeared to be dissolving.

Although Kemp denied reports that he was abandoning the coalition, he indicated that he would send his people only to the official state convention next weekend, which will be dominated by Bush backers, and not to an alternative "rump" convention being organized by some members of the conservative coalition.

"There is no deal. I am solidly behind the coalition. I want the coalition to stick together," Kemp said during a campaign appearance in Manchester, N. H. But he added: "I'm not going to go to a rump convention."

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