LAHAINA - It was the kind of a morning and the kind of location that defines the term "retail politics" when it comes to the early steps of campaigning for office.
Campaign aids struggled to get the door of the cafeteria at King Kamehameha III Elementary School opened for a meeting scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. but that would not start until after 10 a.m.
Under overcast skies, with Lahaina Harbor visible through slanted glass windows, a group of 14 citizens gradually came together in a room decorated with slogans for our future leaders.
Ed Case (right) visits with Kim Ball before the start of his Lahaina “Talk Story” session at King Kamehameha III Elementary School on Saturday morning. Ball later thanked Case for helping to get his son accepted at the U.S. Air Force Academy when Case was a member of Congress. Photo by Tom Blackburn-Rodriguez
"Respect, Sportsmanship, Patience, Courage, Self-control, Kindness, Responsibility and Integrity" were the words of encouragement offered by the school.
This morning, those banners lining the cafeteria walls seemed more fitting than ever as Hawaii sets out to elect a new United States senator to work in Washington, D.C. - a town where those principles were honored more often in words than in deeds.
Democrat Ed Case would like to be Hawaii's Senate choice in the 2012 election. But first he has to win the Democratic Primary and, if successful, face the Republican nominee, expected to be former Governor Linda Lingle.
The general election is a year away, and to win it, Case has to maintain the base of support he built as a former state legislator and as a member of Congress from 2002-06, and he has to find new supporters, all with one single goal in mind.
That goal is to build an organization that will carry him to the ultimate victory one step at a time, and one meeting at a time in the small towns away from of Oahu - towns like Lahaina, Kihei and Paia.
A successful campaign begins early. It involves talking to everyone who will listen, handing out supporter cards, sending thank you notes and in the new age of politics, following up with e-mails, "Tweets," blogs and Facebook updates.
Gradually an organization is built. Local campaign captains are chosen, and one hopes the opposition isn't paying too much attention or is taking you for granted.
There are four reasons why this election is critical to the future of Hawaii, Case told those who had risen early to hear him speak with his brand of retail politics (soliciting in person for votes from the public).
"First, any U.S. senator is absolutely crucial to the state itself, and the question is can they lead the state, and lead the country?" The choice, he said, is who can get the job done for the state?
He told those assembled that the most important issue is creating jobs, and one of the ways to do that is to keep Hawaii's tourism market strong, gain more access to Asian tourism and ease burdensome federal Visa requirements that stand in the way of increasing visitors from the Asian markets.
"I don't believe in sweeping things under the rug," Case said. "The next U.S. senator will serve probably serve for a generation. During that time, Senator Inouye will leave the Senate. We are probably talking about who will eventually be the senior senator for Hawaii."
Third, Case argued that our country needs some help. "We're not doing well. Balancing the budget is a tough challenge. Deficit reduction, Social Security and Medicare are important challenges we need to face head on," he commented.
"Basic governance is failing in Washington. We need to look for common ground. If we can't find it, take the vote and move on. We need to change how we send people to Washington. We need to send people who solve problems," he continued.
Making the argument that Hawaii's political culture has grown stagnant, Case said that the Senate election is also about opening up that culture.
"All politics is local. We need to open up our political culture and bring in more peoplethis election in part is about opening up that political culture," he told the audience.
In response to questions, Case said he believed in a progressive tax code and is opposed to a Flat Tax.
"It was absolutely ridiculous to cut taxes as we entered into two wars," he said. "We need to reform our tax code, and it is one of the top five challenges facing Congress," Case said.
He also declared, "I completely believe in Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security," noting that 50 percent of elderly single women rely only on Social Security for their income.
He is opposed to proposals to privatize Social Security and sees them as uniquely federal government programs that should be funded by the federal government.
Case also said he would vote against a repeal of President Obama's Affordable Health Care Act if elected to the Senate.
"If there are parts that aren't working, let's change them," he said. But the option of doing nothing with 40 million Americans without health insurance or under insured is not acceptable to him.
With two more meetings scheduled on Maui that day (he will do 25-30 over the next two months), Case wrapped up the Lahaina meeting by saying, "If you want to make a difference, then I am your candidate. My message is change - the right kind of change."
Referring to his opponents and potential opponents in both parties, he said, "If you vote the old way, you are going to get the old way."