U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa say their race is about Hawaii dictating its future. But their Democratic primary showdown is also about retaining some of the qualities of the state’s political past.
The intraparty rivals headed for their final showdown Saturday night to replace the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye — the first vote for the seat since Inouye died in late 2012 and Schatz was appointed his replacement.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie picked Schatz over Hanabusa despite Inouye’s wish to the contrary, and Hanabusa says it’s now time for the state’s voters to make the choice themselves.
It’s a somewhat personal battle that pits two politicians with few policy differences in a race with several emotional tinges. Hanabusa has said she doesn’t consider Schatz a true incumbent because he hasn’t won an election, while Schatz argues he has proven himself early in his Senate career by building relationships with everyone from President Barack Obama to conservative Republicans in Congress.
The race to fill the final two years of Inouye’s term divided the islands’ Democrats, with some offended that Abercrombie didn’t follow the suggestion of the state’s grandfather of politics and others eager for a fresh set of leaders free from Hawaii’s old guard.
Schatz outspent Hanabusa by $1 million during the campaign and his ads dominated the airwaves. In several debates, Hanabusa was more aggressive.
Both candidates played up their ability to steer federal dollars for Hawaii, a trait Inouye was known for.
The winner is expected to cruise through the November general election in the heavily Democratic island state. Republican Cam Cavasso was expected to beat three others for his party’s nomination.
In the 2012 primary, 4 out of 5 voters pulled ballots to cast votes for Democrats. Voters do not register for one party or another in Hawaii.