Hawaii Republicans gave Mitt Romney a victory in their caucus Tuesday, softening the blow from his twin losses earlier in the night in Alabama and Mississippi.
More than 7,000 Republicans cast ballots in the caucus, exceeding the Hawaii Republican Party’s prediction. The results determined which candidate 17 of Hawaii’s 20 delegates will support at the national convention.
With 80 percent of the vote counted, Romney had 46 percent of the vote. Santorum came in second with 25.5.
Paul, who had been a surprisingly strong third for most of the evening, fell back to 18 percent. Newt Gingrich was in fourth at 11 percent.
Although there was no clear leader heading into the caucus, Romney’s moderate politics and Mormon religion gave him an advantage. His son Matt Romney flew to Oahu on Sunday to rally support in Honolulu and out on the North Shore, which has a significant Latter-day Saints community.
Romney wasn’t the only candidate’s family member in the islands for the caucus. Elizabeth Santorum and Ronnie Paul, Jr., traveled to Hawaii to campaign for their fathers as well.
Hawaii traditionally supports Democratic presidential candidates – and is the birthplace of President Barack Obama – but the state’s 17 delegates were enough of a lure for GOP candidates vying for the nomination.
Romney is on pace to win the 1,144 delegates needed to claim the nomination in June. However, his rivals hope to keep him from reaching that number to take the contest all the way to the Republican National Convention in August.
Newt Gingrich, who visited Maui six months ago, did not send national campaign representatives to Hawaii, opting to focus on the Alabama and Mississippi primaries instead. He did make time appear remotely on a local television newscast Tuesday morning.
The two-hour caucus was a first for the Hawaii GOP, which opened up 41 polling locations across the state to anyone who wanted to fill out party registration.
Romney supporters at the McKinley High School caucus site in Honolulu said they thought he was the candidate most likely to be able to beat President Barack Obama in November.
“I like the fact that he has a conservative base but is less hardline on the social issues. I think that’s kind of the way the Republican Party needs to go,” said Kelly Griffith, a 51-year-old federal Department of Defense employee.