Hawaii's Democratic Senate Primary Expected to Be Divisive

Thursday, 02 Jan 2014 07:02 AM

By Elliot Jager

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Hawaii's Democratic Senate primary in August is already shaping up as a contest that may be decided on the basis of ethnicity and age.

According to the Washington Post, the state's venerated Daniel Inouye, who entered the Senate in 1963 and served until his death on December 17, 2012, had wanted his Japanese-American protégé, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, to succeed him. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, a fellow Democrat, instead appointed then Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz to fill the vacancy.

Now, Hanabusa, age 62, with the support of Irene Hirano Inouye, the senator's widow, will give up her House seat to challenge Schatz in the primary. Hanabusa will be the standard-bearer of Inouye's Japanese American political machine, while Schatz, at 41, represents the state's white progressives.

Asian voters far outnumber non-Asians in the state.

Hirano Inouye told the Post that for her husband, "serving the people of Hawaii was always first and foremost. I see Colleen as having the same qualities."

Ideologically, there is not much that divides the candidates, the Post reported Wednesday.

But now running as an incumbent, Schatz has the support of many of Inouye's former Democratic leadership colleagues and the automatic financial backing of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. He also has the support of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Vice President Al Gore.

Opinion surveys, however, suggest the race is too close to call.

Republicans are hoping that divisions among the Democrats could boost the chances for a Republican to emerge in the general election, despite the fact that Hawaii is primarily a Blue state. Former Rep. Charles Djou is often mentioned as one possible GOP candidate who could benefit by running more toward the center.

"Brian and Colleen seem to be running a contest as to who can be the left-most extreme liberal candidate," Djou told the Post, referring to the primary matchup between the two Democratic candidates.

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