HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Bernie Sanders' landslide victory over Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton in Saturday's Hawaii Democratic poll didn't just stun local political pundits. It surprised his biggest supporters.
"It was not what I expected," said U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, (D-Hawaii), who has endorsed Sanders.
"There was no question about the big challenges that Bernie Sanders and his campaign had here in Hawaii In particular. I think the fact that a lot of people across the state not that long ago didn't know who he was or had never heard of him, compared to Hillary Clinton who has 100 percent name recognition here."
Gabbard stepped down as a vice chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee in February to campaign for Sanders here and on the mainland.
She said Sanders and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, who won the Hawaii Republican Caucus, are able to connect with disenfranchises working-class voters who feel that mainstream politicians no longer represent them.
"I think people feel frustrated that there is a government in place that is not listening to them, is not paying attention to the challenges that our Hawaii families are facing," she said. "There is rampant frustration with the government that seems to have been co-opted by the big corporations and special interests."
The turnout in Hawaii's poll Saturday was high, due largely to the Sanders campaign's grassroots efforts to register new voters.
Party officials say 5,000 new voters turned out on Saturday.
Sanders received more than 23,000 ballots, or about 70 percent of the vote. Clinton got about 10,000 ballots.
"I'm just so happy. So many youth turned out, so many people who never voted in a caucus turned out," said Lisa Grandinetti, a Sanders supporter.
University of Hawaii Political Science professor Colin Moore says Sanders' big win underscores a changing of the guard in Hawaii politics.
"Hillary Clinton has the backing of nearly every Democratic Party leader in the state, with the exception of Tulsi Gabbard and Neil Abercrombie -- former governors, three of the four members of our congressional delegation -- and she performed very poorly," Moore said. "And so I think it shows there's a lot of space for a more liberal progressive candidate than we've seen in the past."
Moore says he expects these new voters will be a force to reckon with in upcoming mayor and gubernatorial elections.