Hawaii Democrats divided on Senate, governor races

View photos
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie waves to passing cars as he does some last minute campaigning before the primary, Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014, in Honolulu. As the final days of campaigning drew to a close in Hawaii's dramatic primary races, a pair of big storms thrashed toward the islands. The storms posed considerable risk, but for Abercrombie, they also represented an opportunity to cast himself as a steady leader with a strong emotional connection to people in the state. (AP Photo/Marco Garcia)

HONOLULU (AP) — The top-ticket races in Hawaii's dramatic primary election have divided the Democratic party, with incumbents facing strong challengers and voters choosing between fresh faces and the old guard.

Hawaii's Gov. Neil Abercrombie is trying to hold onto his seat while disgruntled voters are turning their allegiance to state Sen. David Ige. Incumbent U.S. Senator Brian Schatz also faces a threat from fellow Democrat U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who believes the seat should have been passed on to her when her mentor, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, died in 2012.

The winners of each race will face Republicans and independent candidates in the November general election, but such campaigns are often longshots in heavily Democratic Hawaii.

Schatz has outspent Hanabusa by more than $1 million, and his ads dominated the airwaves. But Hanabusa has attracted many of Inouye's supporters, who felt it was disrespectful for Abercrombie to disregard the political icon's dying wish to have Hanabusa be appointed his successor. Abercrombie chose Schatz, his lieutenant governor, to replace Inouye after his death.

"We feel confident but not overly confident," Schatz said as he campaigned Saturday in Kailua.

Hanabusa evoked Inouye's name throughout the campaign, aligning herself with the traditional Hawaii political establishment, while Schatz touted his endorsement from President Barack Obama.

"Colleen is riding on the backs of old senior Democrats," said Andrew Tomoso, 53, who works in the surfing and film industries and voted for Schatz on Saturday. "She's been trying to put Schatz down on his record, which I think is old-school. We need new blood."

As the final days of campaigning drew to a close, a pair of big storms thrashed toward the islands, presenting an opportunity for Abercrombie to show a strong emotional connection to voters.

But as the winds and rains died down, election officials decided to press on with Saturday's primary. Voting at two polling places in Puna, on the Big Island, was postponed due to damaged roadways, but Hawaii Office of Elections spokesman Rex Quidilla said the state's other 229 polling places opened without reports of any serious glitches or delays. There also were no signs that the storms hampered turnout, he said.

Abercrombie's calm demeanor as Tropical Storm Iselle thrust through the islands was a contrast to just days earlier, when at a campaign rally he defended his record— fists raised — after a poll was released that showed him trailing Ige by 18 points.

"Somebody said to me today, 'What do you think about the fact that some people are upset with you because of the decisions that you made?'" Abercrombie said to the crowd, practically shouting. "Every decision I made was on behalf of Hawaii, and every decision I made I said at the time, 'Let's see what the results are of facing the tough choices and making the tough decisions.' And the results are in, and the results are that Hawaii is in a better position today than it has ever been."

Ige mounted his challenge despite being outspent by about 10 to 1. While Abercrombie tore through $4.9 million through July 25, Ige spent just $447,000, according to Hawaii's Campaign Spending Commission.

Challenging the incumbent Democrat may have hurt Ige's ability to fundraise. But Ige, a respected state senator who served in the Legislature for 28 years, felt Hawaii was headed in the wrong direction, and that too many of the governor's decisions were dividing communities, he said.

"There were many in the party that did not want me to run," Ige said in a recent interview. "They felt like the incumbent should be supported."

Many Ige voters said they weren't necessarily taken in by Ige — they just didn't like Abercrombie. Some cited disappointment with the way Abercrombie handled contract negotiations with teachers and his past support for a plan to tax pensions.

"There's been so much friction between Abercrombie, the Legislature and communities," said Tom White, 62, who's retired from the U.S. Navy and voted for Ige Saturday. "He's too many rough edges."

Others credited Abercrombie for making tough choices to get the state out of a recession.

"He's been a representative in one way or another my whole life, and I think he's very effective," said Colleen Heyer, 49, a homemaker who lives in Diamondhead and voted for Abercrombie.

Nearly 160,000 voters cast early absentee ballots by mail and at polling stations, up 12 percent from the last primary election, when nearly half of voters cast early ballots.


Associated Press Writers Manuel Valdes, Lorin Eleni Gill and Marco Garcia contributed to this report.