Hawaii Facing Potential Political Senate, Governor's Shakeups

Friday, 08 Aug 2014 12:22 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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Hawaii Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz, in the lone Democratic Senate challenge this primary season, is facing the danger of losing his appointed seat to Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, the protegee of the revered late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who handpicked her as his replacement before he died.

"This is an election that's important because this is the first time that the people have a choice," Hanabusa told The National Journal. "Up until now, he had a vote of one, and that was Neil Abercrombie."

While Inouye was dying in 2012, he sent a letter to fellow Democrat Abercrombie asking him to appoint Hanabusa to his seat. But instead, Abercrombie picked Schatz, who was his younger lieutenant governor to go to Washington.

Schatz's campaign spokeswoman Meaghan Smith said he has always focused on what he can to to help Hawaii's families, and Schatz, at 41, has cast himself as a more progressive voice for his state. And Abercrombie said he passed over Hanabusa, who is in her 60s, so that Schatz would have more time to build up seniority in the Senate.

Before Inouye died, he and former Sen. Daniel Akaka had amassed more than 70 combined years in the Senate by the end of 2012. Their replacements, Schatz and Sen. Mazie Hirono, have less than four years between them.

Schatz may also face problems because of his connection with Abercrombie, who is trailing Democratic challenger Sen. David Ige by double-digit polling points heading into Saturday's primary race, The National Journal reports.

Hanabusa is pointing out that even though Abercrombie passed her by for Washington, she's still gained experience in Congress and in 12 years in Hawaii's state Senate.

There is also a racial aspect to the race. More than 40 percent of Hawaii's voters are Asian, compared to about 20 percent white, and Hanabusa's campaign is counting on the state's Japanese-American to back her.

The polls show the candidates are neck-in-neck, with a live-caller survey by The Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now giving Hanabusa the nod by 8 percentage points and an automated poll by The Honolulu Civil Beat showing Schatz ahead by eight points.

Hanabusa also has retained Inouye's political network, but national figures, such as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., support Schatz.

He's also got the backing of the powerful Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the League of Conservation Voters, and even former Vice President Al Gore, along with some local labor unions, powerful local labor unions, EMILY's List is backing Hanabusa.

President Barack Obama, who lived in Hawaii before calling Illinois his home state, has also endorsed Schatz, who led the then-senator's Hawaii campaign in the 2008 presidential primary.

Schatz may also face problems because of his connection with Abercrombie, who is trailing challenger Sen. David Ige by double-digit polling points heading into Saturday's race, The National Journal  reports.

Abercrombie has not lost an election since 1986, but he lost popularity points when he appointed Schatz over Hanabusa for the Senate. In addition, if he loses Saturday, it will be the first time an incumbent has lost Hawaii's governor's seat and only the fourth time that has happened nationally in the past 10 years.

Abercrombie's own campaign surveys are showing the race is tied, and Ige's campaign manager, Keith Hiraoka, said that while polls are encouraging, the campaign can't rest now.

If Abercrombie does pull out a win, he'll face another political foe, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, who left the Democratic Party this year to run against him. She lost against Abercrombie for the governor's primary in 2010.

Abercrombie has outspent Ige by a 10-1 margin, reports The Washington Post, but may not be the only incumbent facing a challenge this weekend. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, a Republican, got more than 63 percent of the vote in 2010, but polls show he is also trailing.

In other hotly contested races, Democratic Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy is likely to face a tough challenge this fall from Republican businessman Tom Foley, who is favored in his primary race next week. In Illinois, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn is behind venture capitalist Republican Bruce Rauner which puts him in a rare circumstance of being an incumbent from a sitting president's own party and state to potentially lose the governor's mansion.

In South Carolina, Republican Gov. Nikki Haley is facing a rematch against Democratic Sen. Vincent Sheheen, and in Georgia, Republican Gov. Nathan Deal is in a dead heat against Democratic state Sen. Jason Carter. If Deal loses, that will be the first time a Democrat will have won Georgia's governor's seat since 1998.

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