Hawaii debates whether to back Mondale or stay 'uncommitted'

Democratic presidential contender Gary Hart will have to write off Hawaii on March 13 because his supporters ''slipped up'' and neglected to get his name on the straw poll for the island state's 27 delegates.

Come Super Tuesday, Hawaii's 4,000 registered Democrats will have only three choices: Walter Mondale, Jesse Jackson, and ''uncommitted.''

The only way Mr. Hart can recoup is to push for a slate of 27 ''uncommitted'' Hawaii delegates whom he can woo to his fold before the July convention. And this is exactly what his national organization is now doing, according to Hawaii Democratic Party officials.

The battle for delegates at the moment is between organized labor and the party machinery commanded by three-term Democratic Gov. George Ariyoshi.

Organized labor and United States Sen. Daniel K. Inouye (D) are pushing Mr. Mondale. But Governor Ariyoshi and other party regulars want Hawaii's delegation to go to the San Francisco summer convention unpledged, or at least to remain ''uncommitted'' until it receives something in return for Hawaii's 27 votes.

Ariyoshi has a string of political victories spanning nearly three decades. He is in comfortable control of a party organization that has ruled Hawaii politics since it achieved statehood in 1959.

Senator Inouye has an equally impressive record, but despite his popularity he has never developed a strong political army like the one Ariyoshi can count on in any given election.

Ironically, Ariyoshi, throughout his political career, has always had the backing of virtually every powerful labor union, about one-fourth of the state's labor force. Union leaders are now calling on their members to ignore Ariyoshi's plea to remain uncommitted and cast their ballots for Mondale next week.

Hart's organizers aren't the only ones, however, who are pushing for an uncommitted Hawaii delegation. James Kumagai, chairman of Hawaii's Democratic Party, said the backers of Ohio Sen. John Glenn also are phoning local delegates with the same message.

Mr. Kumagai says Hart's mainland national organization ''slipped up'' and missed Hawaii's Jan. 28 filing deadline by several days.

''Until Hart's victories in New Hampshire and Maine, there was very little interest in his candidacy in Hawaii,'' Kumagai says. ''Now there are calls asking whether he can be put on our ballot, but it's too late.

''That can't be done, so now Hart's national organization is trying to reach as many registered Democrats as it can, asking them to stay uncommitted.''

Hart's current string of victories could give him an outside chance to win some of Hawaii's 27 delegates because of Ariyoshi's desire to remain uncommitted.

At a recent news conference Ariyoshi said an ''uncommitted'' posture would give a small state, such as Hawaii, greater clout and put it in a better bargaining position.

''I think we should stay uncommitted and keep all of our options open,'' the governor told reporters.

Unless there is a clear-cut choice, Ariyoshi has always advocated that Hawaii's Democratic delegates should remain uncommitted as long as possible. Ariyoshi also has generally reserved comment until the last minute, saying that if other party leaders followed Inouye's example, then everything would be ''locked up.''

''I don't want to see them come in and be robots and do what their leaders tell them to do,'' Ariyoshi says.

But Inouye doesn't buy that argument. He says now is the time for the tiny Pacific island state to join Mondale's campaign. Inouye also scoffs at the idea of Hawaii trying to bargain away its 27 votes.

Inouye will serve as vice-chairman of the San Francisco national convention. His desire to see Hawaii join Mondale's ranks now, however, may be motivated more by his prominence in national politics.

Inouye received national exposure 16 years ago at the Chicago Democratic National convention, and again in 1973 as a member of the Senate Watergate Committee investigating the campaign activities of President Nixon.

During the last presidential election four years ago, Hawaii, with Inouye as one of its major influencing forces, was one of only six states carried by President Carter and the only one west of Minnesota.

Two years ago, Inouye was Hart's escort when the Colorado senator made his last visit to the islands and at that time was mentioned as an undeclared Democratic presidential hopeful.

Hart addressed Hawaii's state Democratic Party convention and told delegates the 1984 presidential election ''won't be a contest between the left or the right, but between the past and the future.''

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