(HONOLULU) — A rare Saturday primary in Hawaii brings anticipation of two storms barreling into the state, along with two intra-party battles rocking the Democratic Party. History, legacy, ethnicity and even generational story lines all play into the two marquee races.
The history behind these two elections partly begins in December of 2012 when the man who represented the fiftieth state for 50 years Sen. Daniel Inouye passed away. His deathbed request to Gov. Neil Abercrombie was to appoint his protégé Rep. Colleen Hanabusa as his successor. That didn’t happen and instead, he appointed his own number two Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (he maintains Inouye said it was ultimately his decision, but Inouye’s widow is backing Hanabusa). Fast forward to 2014 and Hanabusa is challenging Schatz. And that’s not all, Abercrombie is now in the fight of his own political life, being challenged by state Sen. David Ige.
The legacy of the beloved Inouye weighs heavy over these races, but another famous son of Hawaii has also played prominently in the fight: President Barack Obama. Obama has backed both Schatz and Abercrombie, recording robo-calls for both of them. Abercrombie could not have known the president longer, as he was friends with Obama’s parents before he was even born. The president also cut a radio ad for the endangered governor.
WHO’S ON THE BALLOT? The marquee races are the senate and gubernatorial face-offs that have so divided the Democratic party in the state. All eyes will be on whether a sitting senator and governor can both be tossed out on one day in the Aloha State. Republican incumbents survived a string of insurgent challengers all over the country and there has been much talk of a tea party vs. establishment civil war, but if Schatz falls he will be the first incumbent Senator to do so this cycle. There is also a House race and a lieutenant governor’s race where one of the candidates called for the primary to be postponed due to Iselle and Julio — not candidates, but storms slamming the island state.
Check out FiveThirtyEight.com senior political writer Harry Enten’s take on the big race.
STORM REPORT: Hawaii hasn’t been hit by a hurricane or tropical storm in 22 years and now they are getting hit with a one-two punch. Tropical Storm Iselle downgraded from hurricane status made land fall on the Big Island of Hawaii on Friday, slamming into the island with 60-mph winds, but it quickly fell apart. About 1,000 miles behind Iselle is a monster category two storm Hurricane Julio with winds of 120 mph. The good news is it’s only supposed to graze Hawaii Sunday. So, how will this affect Saturday’s primary? On Friday, the state’s chief elections officer Scott Nago announced that after being briefed by the state’s Hawaii Emergency Management Agency the primary will “go forward as planned,” but voting at two locations on the Big Island would be postponed due to storm damaged roads. Nago said these votes will be cast by absentee ballot and “will be counted.” One of the Republican candidates for lieutenant governor, Warner “Kimo” Sutton has called on Abercrombie to postpone the primary saying, “It seems very political, not caring for the danger to those who cannot get [to polls] safely.” If the storms turn out to be more serious than expected, Abercrombie can direct election officials to change voting hours, polling places and even the date of the election. As the storm approached the campaigns urged voters to cast their ballots early in case conditions were too precarious Saturday, eventually those hours were cut short Thursday, but only on the Big Island. The candidates suspended campaigning and asked supporters to urge caution and even to take down yard signs, which could easily turn into projectiles in hurricane-force winds.
FACE-OFF OVER A DYING WISH: Hawaii voters will nominate someone to take Inouye’s seat for the first time since 1963 in the senate Democratic primary Saturday. It isn’t just Inouye’s dying wish that his political protégé be appointed to his seat that is playing into this face-off, but seniority and ethnicity as well.
WHY IT MATTERS: In announcing his decision to appoint Schatz over Hanabusa, he cited Schatz’s youth at 41 years old, which would give him the opportunity to build up more seniority in the Senate to benefit the state. He has also been touted by supporters as a new generation, something that has also riled Hanabusa. By 2012 when Sen. Daniel Akaka announced his retirement and Inouye had passed away, they had more than 70 combined years of seniority. Now, with Schatz and Sen. Mazie Hirono, they have less than four. Hanabusa, 61, has touted her time in Congress, as well as her 12 years in Hawaii’s state senate and decades as a practicing attorney beforehand. The issue of ethnicity is also an important one. Hanabusa is Japanese-American and native Hawaiians, as well as Hawaiians of Asian descent, make up the majority of voters on the island. She has argued she is the rightful successor to Inouye, also a Japanese-American, who was a World War II veteran who truly helped to shape the state. White voters, who are likely to go stronger for Schatz, are the minority. Schatz is leading Hanabusa in fundraising bringing in $4.9 million to Hanabusa’s $2.4 million. This race isn’t about political issues as they mostly agree with one another, instead it’s about all the issues we have mentioned: legacy, ethnicity, and a beloved man’s dying wish. These all play into the tight governor’s race as well.
FiveThirtyEight’s Take Polling: The polling has been all over the place and the division between the pollsters is nothing new for Hawaii’s Democratic primaries. The Hawaii Poll missed the 2002 gubernatorial primary by 18.6 percentage points. Another pollster missed the 2012 senatorial primary by 17.5 points. Why the big misses? Hawaii’s diversity has troubled pollsters in the past and looks to wreak havoc in 2014. Unlike in most states in the continental U.S., the majority of Hawaiians are non-white. Native Hawaiians, people of Asian descent and those of mixed origin make up about 70 percent of the state’s residents. That’s a big deal for this senate primary. Hanabusa is cruising among Japanese-American voters and doing quite well among Native Hawaiians and voters of mixed origin. Schatz, who is white, is doing best among white voters. Pollsters agree that 27 percent of primary voters should be of Japanese descent, and that Asian-Americans should comprise about 42 to 45 percent of primary voters. They disagree wildly, however, on the percentage of whites. The Hawaii Poll pegs white voters at just 22 percent of primary voters, while other polls have whites at north of 40 percent. The Hawaii poll has a much higher percentage of Native Hawaiians and voters of mixed origin. If you applied the expected racial makeup of the electorate from the Hawaii Poll to the other polls, Schatz’s lead would become a 3 point deficit. Because of poor record keeping, there is no way to know which pollsters have actually modeled the electorate correctly. Key County: About 70% of the vote will come from Honolulu. While it’s possible to win the primary without winning Honolulu, it’s difficult. At the very least, you have to be very competitive in Honolulu County.
FIGHT OF A POLITICAL LIFE: Only four governors have lost primaries in the past ten years, and no incumbent Hawaii governor has ever lost re-election in a primary, but Abercrombie could very well go down today in the state’s gubernatorial Democratic primary today.
WHY IT MATTERS? State Senator David Ige, who has served in the state legislature since 1986, initially as a state representative, is challenging the incumbent governor for his spot. The little-known Ige argues that as a longtime member of the state legislature, he is more in tune with both the Hawaiian people and the members of the state legislature. Abercrombie is a well-known political fixture for decades in the state and although he is behind in state polls, his loss would be a shocker. Abercrombie is a native New Yorker, but came to the Aloha State for college and entered state politics in 1975 when he entered the state House of Representatives. In 1979 he entered to the state senate. He was appointed to Congress in 1986, returning after being elected in 1991 serving nine terms through 2010 when he ran for governor successfully. Abercrombie has widely outraised Ige, but he is being endorsed by two former Governors of Hawaii: Gov. Ben Cayetano and Gov. George Ariyoshi. As mentioned above, Abercrombie also hasn’t recovered from appointing Schatz over Hanabusa leading to this two race, one party brawl. In this bright blue state both victors in the senate and gubernatorial races are likely November winners as well.
DEMOCRATIC PRIMARY FOR HAWAII’S FIRST CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT: Hanabusa’s campaign for Senate leaves an open field of candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for this district. The leading candidates are current state Senate President Donna Kim and state Rep. Mark Takai. Kim is being backed by EMILY’s List who endorse female Democratic candidates who support abortion rights (they are also backing Hanabusa over Schatz) and Takai is endorsed by the editorial board of Hawaii’s biggest newspaper, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser. A safe Democratic district, the winner of this primary will most likely go on to win the general election in November.
HAWAII LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR’S RACE: Incumbent Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui is being challenged in the Democratic primary by state senator Clayton Hee. There are a total of seven candidates running for the spot, five Democrats and two Republicans, but the leading candidates are Tsutsui and Hee. Tsutsui was appointed the job a year and a half ago when Schatz was appointed to the senate. As mentioned above, one of the Republican candidates, Kimo Sutton has called on Abercrombie to delay the primary due to the two storms, but in this blue state it’s unlikely he will have a shot, instead the winner of the Democratic primary will most likely go on to win the general election in the solidly Democratic state.
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