The war veteran beats Mufi Hannemann in the primary election for the U.S. House
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 12, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 03:03 a.m. HST, Aug 12, 2012
Honolulu City Councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard won a resounding and surprising victory Saturday over former Mayor Mufi Hannemann for the 2nd Congressional District Democratic nomination.
Gabbard, 31, a war veteran, capped an improbable jump from distant underdog to beat Hannemann, 58, and put herself in perfect position to win a seat on Capitol Hill, something that has eluded Hannemann since he first ran for public office in 1986.
Gabbard gave a short victory speech at 10:15 p.m. after being congratulated by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
"You are going to hear me say this many times tonight, and you are going to hear me say this many times in the future — that (this) is about serving the people, serving the people of Hawaii, serving the people of our country and the world," she said.
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Gabbard said she found great inspiration daily along the campaign trail, from young children to an 18-year-old girl moved by the campaign's message to pursue a teaching career.
She offered a special "shout-out" to some of her Hawaii Army National Guard friends who are in Mississippi training for a deployment to Afghanistan. "And this night I would like to dedicate to them and to all our troops serving overseas," she said.
Hannemann conceded the race at about 9:45 p.m., about 90 minutes after arriving from Maui, where he spent much of the day campaigning. "There are worse things in life than to go through another campaign and come out on the short end," Hannemann told supporters gathered at his Kalihi headquarters.
Asked if he would endorse Gabbard, Hannemann said he hasn't been asked. Asked if he would if Gabbard did so, Hannemann said he would cross that bridge when he got to it.
But he congratulated Gabbard on her victory, despite his characterization of what he called a negative campaign influenced by special interest groups.
Polls in recent weeks showed Gabbard made dramatic gains and even led Hannemann, whom most believed had a big lead at the start of the campaign. The Hawaii Poll, conducted by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now, showed Hannemann up by a margin of 43 percent to 33 percent, substantially less than the 65 percent to 20 percent lead he held over Gabbard in a Hawaii Poll in February.
Gabbard had also managed to raise nearly $900,000, almost as much as Hannemann's $1 million, according to campaign spending reports at the end of July. And Gabbard raised more than Hannemann in the most recent reporting periods.
Additionally, Gabbard benefited from more than $500,000 worth of mailers and television commercials from three independent special interest groups: Sierra Club Independent Action, VoteVets.Org Action Fund and Women Vote!, an offshoot of the pro-abortion rights organization Emily's List.
The Sierra Club, in particular, hit Hannemann hard on his environmental record and accused him of, among other things, blocking efforts requiring his administration to implement an islandwide curbside recycling program. Hannemann supporters countered that it took the mayor's influence to persuade the United Public Workers union to accept the islandwide program.
Two weeks before the primary, Hannemann loaned his campaign $150,000, saying he needed to blunt the impact of the advertising campaign waged against him by "outside special interests."
Hannemann's campaign touted his decades of political experience and the need for a freshman representative to hit the ground running.
But Gabbard's campaign focused on turning that experience against Hannemann, instead painting Gabbard as a fresh face and "a different kind of leader" who would have the chance to build up seniority in Congress.
Gabbard, the daughter of state Sen. Mike Gabbard and former Board of Education member Carol Gabbard, is halfway into a four-year term as a councilwoman representing downtown Honolulu. Her political career began in 2002 when, at the age of 21, she became the youngest person ever elected to the Hawaii Legislature.
She gave up that seat in summer 2004 when, while a member of the Hawaii Army National Guard, her unit was deployed to Iraq.
Hannemann served six years as mayor before resigning to run for governor in 2010. He lost to Abercrombie in the Democratic primary. Before that, Hannemann served as a city councilman from 1994 to 2000.
Finishing third in the Democratic primary was longtime congressional aide Esther Kia‘aina while fourth place went to Hilo attorney Bob Marx. Both ran high-profile campaigns but failed to gain enough traction to come within striking distance. Trailing far behind were Kaneohe financial adviser Miles Shiratori and Hawaii Kai attorney Rafael Del Castillo.
On the Republican side, self-employed handyman/ house painter David Kawika Crowley of Hilo beat small-businessman/consultant Matthew DiGeronimo of Hawaii Kai for the chance to face Gabbard.
But only Democrats have occupied the 2nd Congressional seat since Hawaii first gained a second U.S. House seat in 1959.
The district was left without an incumbent when Mazie Hirono decided to forgo re-election to jump into a race for U.S. Senate after Sen. Dan Akaka chose to retire.
Hirono has held the seat since 2006.
The district comprises rural parts of Oahu and all neighbor islands. About two-thirds of the registered voters in the district are from the neighbor islands but only Oahu residents have represented the district since 1959. Gabbard lives in Honolulu and Hannemann lives in Aiea. Both are outside the district but are not required to live in it.
Loyal supporters for both Hannemann and Gabbard arrived early at their respective campaign celebrations and waited patiently for their candidates and election results to arrive.
In Kalihi, Kakaako resident Wendell Faria, 61, said he had helped with each one of Hannemann's campaigns, including serving as his driver and bodyguard in his first run for office. He met Hannemann in high school when they played for different school teams in basketball and football.
Faria said Hannemann was the best candidate because of his extensive experience in Washington. He used a baseball pitching analogy to summarize the choice voters faced. "Are you going to put your ace in or your reliever?"
At Blaisdell, Gabbard supporter Jan Mitchell, 55, of Kailua was waving a small American flag as a four-piece band played. Mitchell said she was a sign-waver for Gabbard in Kaneohe and Kailua.
"Tulsi to me is honest. She's fresh. She means business," Mitchell said. "She has a lot of personal goals that I share with her — her aim to put Hawaii to work, her aim to protect women's rights to choose. I feel that she has Hawaii's interests at heart."
Hannemann told the Star-Advertiser that he wouldn't rule out another try at elected office but said he wasn't sure what his future held.
The First Congressional District race is shaping up to be a General Election rematch of 2010. Incumbent Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat, and former Rep. Charles Djou, a Republican, both won their primary races easily over token opposition.
Star-Advertiser staff writers William Cole and Rob Perez contributed to this report.