Though polling in this race suggested that either appointed Sen. Brian Schatz or Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1) held substantial leads heading into Saturday’s Democratic primary, the campaign finished much different than predicted.
Most of the polling posted Schatz to advantages approaching double-digits, though the race’s final public survey, from Honolulu-based Ward Research, found that Hanabusa held a similar edge. No late-term poll had suggested the race was virtually tied, which is now occurring … present tense, because the campaign is not over.
Since the hurricanes that hit on and around the islands struck ground literally hours before the primary, it may be a couple of weeks before the final outcome is reported and certified. Though Sen. Schatz has a 1,659-vote lead, two precincts on the Big Island of Hawaii remain to be counted. Since roads were closed due to the storms, preventing thousands of voters from having access to the polls, election officials are saying they will expand the voting period.
Due to the closeness of the vote, and that as many as 8,000 voters were unable to cast their ballots on Saturday in the region’s Puna precincts, the affected individuals will now be sent another ballot. A return date will be selected, but it will take two weeks or longer before this race is finalized.
Schatz’s small lead, however, will likely hold up. Hanabusa will need to attract between 60 percent and two-thirds of the new votes to pull ahead. This is unlikely to occur, considering the statewide percentage, with all but two precincts reporting, favors Schatz 49.3 – 48.6 percent, and the Senator scored a similar 49-48 percent edge on the Big Island. To expect Hanabusa now to obtain 60-67 percent of the outstanding votes is unreasonable. So, the presumption that Schatz will be nominated should become reality, but just when this occurs is unknown.
Even if the final total favors Schatz, we may not have heard the end of this campaign, for the election officials dictating the post-vote procedure may not be in compliance with applicable election laws. The fact that these officials allowed the statewide ballots counted and reported skews these new incoming votes, and violates the federal law that requires all votes to be counted in the subsequent period to the polls closing. If they wanted to allow the people in the affected precincts to vote, the entire count should have been delayed until these ballots were cast.
Much intrigue will follow.
The other interesting Hawaii Democratic primary story is Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s defeat. Pearl Harbor area state Sen. David Ige, who had been leading in virtually every poll, went on to complete his improbable primary victory with a margin that exceeded 2:1. The unofficial final tally gives Ige an astonishing 67-31 percent landslide win. He now faces Republican former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona and ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a former Democrat with a long history of battling Abercrombie, who now runs as an Independent. The three-way contest actually makes Aiona viable even in heavily Democratic Hawaii.
Abercrombie becomes the first Hawaii governor since 1962 to lose re-election, and the first ever in Aloha State politics to be denied renomination. The stunning loss is even more so when seeing that Abercrombie spent over $5 million on his campaign and benefited from several independent expenditures on his behalf. Ige spent less than $500,000 and had just one IE in his favor, for an additional $125,000. The fact that he was outspent by a 10:1 ratio makes his landslide victory more noteworthy. Abercrombie also had support from the entire Democratic establishment including President Obama, who personally appeared in video and audio messages for the governor.
Several reasons led to Abercrombie’s downfall. First, the appointment of Sen. Schatz against the late Sen. Daniel Inouye’s wish to have Hanabusa succeed him alienated the venerable senator’s family and political organization, along with former governors George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano. The late senator’s widow and her son, for example, publicly endorsed Ige. Second, was the governor’s unpopular package of tax increases proposed during the Hawaii legislative session. Third, was Ige making an issue of the governor’s enacted Pre-K program that cost the state $125 million without any new funding mechanism. And, fourth was apparently personal style.
Despite the hurricanes, more than 230,000 people voted in the Democratic primary election topping 272,000 overall. This represents about 38.5 percent of the registered voters, which is higher than average for a Hawaii primary.
The crowded Democratic primary to replace the outgoing Rep. Hanabusa featured seven candidates, but the end result yielded a winner carrying the district with a comfortable margin.
Polls suggested that state Rep. Mark Takai (D) possessed serious momentum and had successfully overtaken state Senate Pres. Donna Mercado Kim, who was considered the favorite for most of the race’s duration. In the end, Takai took 44 percent of the vote versus Kim’s 28 percent. The next closest finisher was Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang with just ten percent.
Takai now faces former US Rep. Charles Djou in the general election. Djou scored a 96-percent victory in Saturday’s concurrent Republican primary. The district’s Democratic voting history makes Takai a solid favorite in November.