HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - With the GOP presidential nomination still up for grabs, some say Hawaii's Republican Party could wind up having a greater say in who gets the nod.
For years, Hawaii's GOP caucus in March has been an afterthought, sandwiched between the Super Tuesday races and primaries in Florida and Ohio. And Hawaii's 19 Republican delegate seats represent less than 1 percent of the GOP's entire 2,500-member delegation.
But some political pundits believe the crowded race led by Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, John Kasich and Marco Rubio might not be decided by the start of the national GOP convention in July.
"This really could be the first time Hawaii does play a very active role in the selection of a presidential nominee," said former Hawaii Republican Congressman Charles Djou.
While none of the major candidates is expected to stump here, experts say the campaigns are likely to pay more attention to Hawaii's delegates.
"It means that the candidates will probably spend more time for the delegates in Hawaii that their concerns are going to be paid attention to," said Colin Moore, University of Hawaii political science professor.
Hawaii Republicans get to vote on their presidential candidate in a March 8 caucus. Under party rules, delegates are selected by the candidate committees, based on the votes the candidates get in the caucus.
At the national convention in Cleveland, the Hawaii delegates must pledge their votes to their candidates. But if there's no outright winner on the first vote, they're free to vote for anyone else on the ballot.
"Then it becomes a free-for all after the first vote," said Eric Ryan, president of Hawaii Republican Assembly. "Hawaii matters in 2016 because it's so close among the top two or three candidates."