Obama voting surge could boost other Democrats in Hawaii

— -- Overwhelming voter turnout Tuesday for Barack Obama in the state where he was born could benefit Democrats in other Hawaii races.

Republican Party leaders are asking voters to choose representatives based on their reputation in the local community, while Democrats say Obama's popularity could reflect positively on candidates who have endorsed him.

"Without any doubt, Senator Obama is going to help many of the local races, and I expect to pick up a few more seats in the House because of the Obama wave that's sweeping the country," said Rep. Marcus Oshiro, D-Wahiawa-Poamoho. "There's tremendous enthusiasm, heartfelt pride, joy and optimism in electing one of our own to be our next president."

Republicans, who are looking to gain ground in the state Legislature, said high support for Obama in a national presidential election won't necessarily influence local races.

"I hope people understand they need to vote for the candidate who best represents their district," said Republican Party Chairman Willes Lee. "A lot of people may think there's no reason to come out and vote because their neighbor will."

Already, record numbers of Hawaii voters cast their ballots early this year. More than 161,000 people had either voted early at walk-in polling stations or mailed ballots statewide, according to election officials.

Two-thirds of registered Hawaii voters — about 432,000 people — went to the polls in the last presidential election in 2004. In this year's primary election, a record-low 36.9% of voters — about 246,000 people — turned out.

Obama is expected to achieve one of his highest percentages of any state in Hawaii, where he held a rally and fundraiser at the start of a week-long Hawaii vacation in August. He returned to the state for a solemn visit in October to be with his grandmother, Madelyn Dunham, who was gravely ill and died the night before the last day of campaigning.

In addition to the presidential race, Hawaii voters will decide on the mayors of three islands, legislative seats, Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustees, Board of Education members and various ballot initiatives.

Pro-rail Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann is running for a second term against Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi, who opposes his steel-wheeled rail plan. Voters also will decide on a separate question that asks whether the city should establish the rail system.

On the Big Island, former mayoral aide Billy Kenoi is running against Councilman Angel Pilago.

On Kauai, former mayor Joann Yukimura goes up against county parks director Bernard Carvalho Jr.

In the state Legislature, Republicans believe they can whittle away at the Democrats big majority by winning a few close races. Democrats control all but 11 out of 76 seats at the Capitol.

Other ballot questions will ask voters to convene a Constitutional Convention, lower the age requirement to run for governor to 25, and make marijuana enforcement the lowest priority for police on the Big Island.

If Obama wins all the states where he is running ahead in the polls, results of the election could be known well before Hawaii polls close at 6 p.m. Hawaii time (11 p.m. ET). If it's close and John McCain maintains a chance of winning following the early reporting states, the results likely would come much later.

Obama could win enough votes in the Eastern and Central time zones for the race to be called by national news media as early as 4 p.m. HST (9 p.m. ET) based on exit polling results when the polls close in New York.

Exit polling by The Associated Press and other national news media in Hawaii is expected to allow island results for the presidential race to be declared right at 6 p.m. local time. There will be no exit polling in other races on the Hawaii ballot, so results will have to await the official count, with election officials hoping to have close to final results by 11 p.m.