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THE NATION | THE RACE TO THE WHITE HOUSE

3 States Left on the Outside Looking In

Hawaii, Idaho, Utah vote a week before Super Tuesday. Democratic candidates stay away.

February 18, 2004|John M. Glionna | Times Staff Writer

Pity poor Hawaii.

Take away the flowery leis, romantic beaches and bathtub-warm tropical waters, and what have you got? A state being all but ignored by Democratic presidential candidates as its caucuses approach.

Along with Idaho and Utah, Hawaii holds its nomination contest Tuesday -- one week before Super Tuesday on March 2, when 10 states, including California, New York and Ohio, go to the polls.

A total of 1,151 delegates are up for grabs on Super Tuesday -- by far the largest on any single day and close to a third of all those selected through the primary and caucus process. By contrast, 61 delegates are at stake in the Hawaii, Idaho and Utah contests.

The result? While voters in Iowa and New Hampshire enjoyed months of face time with the Democratic hopefuls, and states such as Michigan, Tennessee and Arizona had their share of candidate meet-and-greets, voters in Hawaii, Idaho and Utah must settle for local aides acting as fill-ins or, at best, closed-circuit TV appearances by the White House aspirants.

"We've made requests for appearances by the candidates, but we haven't been able to get them to fit us into their very busy schedules," said Alex Santiago, chairman of the Hawaii Democratic Party. "I guess the flight out is too long, they'd get too tired."

Aides to Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina on Monday called Idaho Democrats to break the news that he might skip a scheduled appearance to speak at the state party's annual fundraising dinner.

"He has a possible big event in New York City he may have to attend," said Carolyn Boyce, chairwoman of Idaho Democrats. "We told them we understood."

Kim Rubey, an Edwards spokeswoman, said the campaign "hoped to send a surrogate" to Idaho.

She added: "Right now, we're focusing our travel on the Super Tuesday states."

Democratic officials in the states voting Tuesday are taking such comments in stride; they know their place in the party's political pecking order. But that doesn't mean they have to like it.

"I would say that for a very long time we've been taken for granted," Santiago of Hawaii said. The state "has always been a Democratic stronghold, but times have changed. We elected our first Republican governor in 40 years. I don't think any of us can take anything for granted anymore."

Hawaii even moved its caucuses up a week in the hopes of avoiding the Super Tuesday hoopla and claim a small place on the nation's political map.

But only longshot candidate Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio made a campaign stop there -- last fall. Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean visited the state last fall as well, but his was not a campaign appearance. He came with other family members to repatriate remains tentatively identified as those of his brother, who disappeared in Laos 30 years ago.

President Bush held a fundraiser in Hawaii in October during a one-day stopover on his return from Australia.

Idaho has not fared much better. As the Idaho Statesman newspaper observed in a recent editorial, "No one ever mistakes Idaho and Iowa, at least where presidential politics is concerned."

Like Hawaiians, Idahoans thought this year might be different and that their caucuses would get a little more national attention.

They also hoped a few visits by the Democratic candidates would breathe some competitive spirit into a state where only 23 of 105 state legislators are Democrats and where, like Utah, no Democratic presidential candidate has won since Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

But although Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts owns a home in Sun Valley, Idaho, and vacations there frequently, he has limited his political visits to speaking at a party banquet last spring and holding a fundraiser in Sun Valley last summer.

Dean has visited Idaho four times since late 2002 -- and in one fiery speech declared that the path to defeating President Bush went through the state. But Dean may end his candidacy before Tuesday's vote.

Democratic officials in Utah say they can't help but feel a little jealous of Iowa and New Hampshire, which grab so much attention in presidential races.

"They don't reflect America any more than Utah does," Utah Democratic chairman Donald Dunn said. "It's just timing -- they're first and we're not. That's just the way it is."

But Dunn stresses the positive. "The Kerry campaign sent five staff people here a week and a half ago," he said. "That shows a real commitment as far as we're concerned."

He also maintains a sense of humor about the lack of candidate visits before his state's primary. "How about life-sized cardboard cutouts?" he asked.

Democratic officials in some Western states have pushed for a regional nominating contest, in which voters across a dozen states or more could weigh in at once. They say that would force candidates to concentrate on small Western states and their issues.

Until then, Hawaii, Utah and Idaho will take what they can get.

"When Dennis Kucinich came through Hawaii last year, the crowd was shoulder-to-shoulder," said Santiago. "It was exciting."

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