POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 18, 2010
HILO » One of the most bitter Democratic races for governor in decades drew to a close last night at the simple Mooheau bandstand in downtown Hilo with rivals Neil Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann searching for common ground.
There was tension in the crowd of more than 300 before the speeches as supporters for both candidates packed the bandstand and spilled out on to the lawn.
The Hilo Grand Rally has been a Hawaii Democratic Party tradition since 1954 when Democrats swept out Republicans in the territorial Legislature and started a political dominance that exists to this day.
Hannemann, with significant support from Hawaii business and political establishment, spoke first.
The former Honolulu mayor started his speech saying that 20 years ago he was at the same venue running against the late Patsy Mink for Congress.
"I lost to a great Democrat and after that race we came together and made sure we sent a Democrat back to Washington," said Hannemann.
Hannemann is trailing in all the recent political polls and Democratic observers say he will need a large Republican crossover vote to win today.
Hannemann spoke of unity, mentioning Abercrombie several times.
"I especially want to acknowledge Neil Abercrombie. We are all running for office — we need to take back the fifth floor," Hannemann said, referring to the top level office at the state Capitol where Republican Gov. Linda Lingle has presided for nearly eight years.
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"This party is on the brink of renewal; I give credit to Mufi Hannemann for what he has made clear tonight ... that there is going to be change coming to Hawaii, a new future a new way forward," shouted Abercrombie in a short but emotional speech that started and ended with standing ovations from the decidedly pro-Abercrombie crowd.
Dante Carpenter, the state Democratic Party chairman and a former Hawaii County mayor, called the night the beginning of a healing process for the two Democratic heavyweights, who have slugged it out for 18 months.
"It is tough to lose. There is a transition to make, and tonight is the beginning of the reckoning of that," said Carpenter.
For Hannemann and Abercrombie supporters, the race is not over. Both sides are still working. Hannemann himself ended a daylong campaign trolley ride Thursday by shaking hands at 10 p.m. at the Kaheka Street Don Quijote store.
The campaign and the sometimes almost visible acrimony between Hannemann and Abercrombie have highlighted serious party divisions.
Former Big Island Mayor Lorraine Inouye said she started the campaign session leaning toward endorsing Hannemann, but then backed off after Hannemann mailed a brochure statewide asking voters to compare his education background, birthplace and even his wife with Abercrombie's.
Then after a conservative Christian religious lobbying group ran ads attacking Abercrombie and it was learned that the ad was partially sponsored by a member of Hannemann's campaign team, Inouye said she had had enough.
"As things went on, I didn't like what was happening, it was bad PR. The religion thing made me uncomfortable. It just wasn't good," Inouye said last night.
Still, Hannemann supporters in Hilo said their candidate can win.
Robert Rosehill, a retired Kamehameha Schools land manager, said the former mayor and Honolulu city councilman "is coming on strong."
"He is going to be the best financial manager," Rosehill said.
The winner in the Democratic primary is expected to face Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona in the November general election.