A 40-year political career came to a close after Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie lost his bid for a second term in a stunning primary-election defeat by a fellow Democrat and state senator who defied party leadership to challenge the incumbent. A second intraparty fight for U.S. Senate was too close to call.
State Sen. David Ige, once seen as an underdog, cruised to a decisive 35 percentage point win in Saturday’s primary after being dramatically outspent by Abercrombie, who also had high-profile endorsements including President Barack Obama. Ige said his win “proves that people power can be money power, especially in Hawaii.”
Tropical Storm Iselle, which pounded parts of the state earlier this week, also delivered a bizarre twist to Hawaii’s election, leaving the heated contest between incumbent Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa too close to declare a winner.
In an unprecedented move, elections officials postponed voting in two precincts in the remote Puna region of the Big Island, deciding that damaged roads would make it unsafe for voters to get to the polls. With Schatz holding only a narrow lead over Hanabusa, both candidates will have to wait for the results from mail-in ballots that will be sent to as many as 8,255 registered voters there, then returned and tabulated.
Both races divided the state’s dominant Democratic Party and offered voters a choice between the political establishment and a new generation of leaders.
Abercrombie called his four years as governor “a singular honor,” and pledged in an email to help Ige “with every ounce of energy I possess.”
“Whatever shortcomings I have, whatever faults that I have, I can guarantee you one of them has never been a failure to give all that I can every day to Hawaii,” he told supporters Saturday night.
Abercrombie is the first Hawaii governor to lose to a primary challenger and only the second not to win re-election. His defeat comes after Obama last month cut a radio ad for Abercrombie, invoking the Hawaiian word for family to tell voters in his native state that Abercrombie is “like ohana to me.”
The governor was seen as confrontational and he angered many voters with a proposal last year to raise a host of taxes. The politically influential teachers union also campaigned for Ige after Abercrombie alienated teachers in 2011 by imposing a final contract that cut pay by 5 percent after negotiations failed.
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.
“There’s been so much friction between Abercrombie, the Legislature and communities,” said Tom White, 62, who voted for Ige and is retired from the U.S. Navy. “He’s too rough around the edges.”
Abercrombie’s decision to appoint Schatz to the U.S. Senate seat after the death of beloved political icon U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died in 2012, also angered many Hawaii voters. Before he died, Inouye told Abercrombie that he wanted him to appoint Hanabusa to his seat.
Hanabusa evoked Inouye’s name throughout the campaign, aligning herself with the traditional Hawaii political establishment, while Schatz touted his endorsement from 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. “She’s been trying to put Schatz down on his record, which I think is old-school. We need new blood.”
Both candidates played up their ability to steer federal dollars to Hawaii, a trait for which Inouye was known.
Schatz took another jab at Hanabusa in an election night speech saying he wanted to offer representation “that doesn’t divide people across the state, that doesn’t focus on the negative, that doesn’t focus on ways to split communities up, that doesn’t think about opportunities to topple someone else.”
Hanabusa and Schatz immediately began emphasizing their concern for residents on the Big Island — and their critical votes. Schatz said he would head to the area to campaign if it does not interfere with clean-up efforts there.
“Can you imagine being in Puna, knowing you are determining this election?” Hanabusa said.
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.
Voters Saturday also chose state Rep. Mark Takai in a seven-way Democratic contest to represent urban Honolulu in the U.S. Congress. He faces Republican Charles Djou in November.
Associated Press writers Marco Garcia, Lorin Eleni Gill, Kalani Takase and Manuel Valdes contributed to this report.
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