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Mix of stalwarts and young guns brought Abercrombie success

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 8:05 a.m. HST, Sep 21, 2010

Early in the campaign, Neil Abercrombie, the eventual Democratic nominee for governor, was asked who is running his operation.

"As soon as I find out, I'll let you know," Abercrombie happily replied.

The campaign team was an unusual group of mainstream Democratic veterans and young liberals.

It is a Friday afternoon two weeks before the primary election and Charlie Toguchi pulls up by the Father Damien statue on the Beretania Street side of the state Capitol. The former school teacher, state representative, senator, superintendent of education and former Gov. Ben Cayetano's chief of staff, is pulling "Neil Abercrombie for Governor" placards out of the trunk of his black Lexus. He distributes them to Abercrombie supporters, instructing them on how to sign wave.

Humble, smart and quick, Toguchi is the sort you want on your side in a political knife fight.

Helping him is Lloyd Nekoba, another former school teacher. Nekoba's political lineage runs from former Lt. Gov. Jean King to Cayetano. He is also former U.S. Rep. Ed Case's brother-in-law and an assistant to Abercrombie. Nekoba is a worker bee specializing in keeping the grassroots green and well tended.

"Lloyd's role was usually to bring some coherence to the chaos of a statewide campaign ... He basically had to direct the energies of the many volunteers into the various useful but often numbingly tedious tasks," Rep. Gill Keith-Agaran said in an 2005 description of the Cayetano campaign.

The Abercrombie campaign combined the Democratic Party veterans with liberal and progressive newcomers. Alongside Jimmy Toyama, former Oahu chairman of the party, and Ed Hasegawa, a member of the party's central committee, is a youth corps recruited by Abercrombie.

An expert in social media, L.P. "Neenz" Faleafine was brought on to start electronic tending of the "netroots." And although it is assumed that the world of Facebook and Twitter are the domain of the young, Faleafine says "people 50 and older are the largest percentage of new users of social media."

"Some of the most active and influential social members in Hawaii are on Neil's campaign," she said, noting that Abercrombie used Twitter to first announce his plans to run for governor.

For a veteran such as Abercrombie, the campaign was a successful combination of the powerful skills of old-time Democratic campaign organizers and the new technology of the iPhone generation.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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