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If the election for mayor of the City and County of Honolulu were held today, who would you vote for?

Support is growing for rail and Caldwell, who favors the project, while Cayetano sees a dip in favorability

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 12:18 p.m. HST, Oct 30, 2012

Kirk Caldwell for the first time has taken the lead in the campaign for Honolulu mayor, bolstered by shifting support for rail and a growing dislike for his challenger, Ben Cayetano, according to Hawaii Poll numbers released today.

The poll shows Caldwell, the pro-rail former city managing director, leading Cayetano, the two-term former governor and avowed rail opponent, by 53 percent to 42 percent. Five percent of poll participants said they did not know who they would vote for or refused to answer the question.

"It confirms the momentum I'm feeling out on the street every day as I wave, as I walk the communities all around this island — I'm getting a very, very positive response," Caldwell said. "At the end of the day, the only poll that really counts is the one on Election Day, although I'm very happy to see confirmation that I think momentum is in my favor. It just tells me we're doing all the right things."

The new poll numbers mark the first time Cayetano has trailed since he entered the race in January.

Cayetano was the top vote-getter in the August primary election with 44.7 percent, but fell short of the

50 percent majority needed to win the office outright. Caldwell was second with 29.4 percent and incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle third with 25.1 percent.

“We don’t think the numbers are real,” Cayetano said of the poll results. “It’s hard to believe that there could be such a turnaround, but if there is, then it’s because of the weight of the (Pacific Resources Partnership) campaign and the Star-Advertiser editorials and all that.”

He also noted his campaign had not been airing ads for a few weeks, “and now we’re on the air again, so we’ll see what happens.”

The Hawaii Poll of 552 likely voters was conducted for the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now by Ward Research Inc. of Honolulu. The survey via land line and cellphones was conducted Oct. 15 to 22 and has a margin of error of 4.2 percentage points.

Polling was completed the day Cayetano filed a libel lawsuit against Pacific Resources Partnership, which has spent more than $1 million in advertising against Cayetano.

The lawsuit accuses PRP and its associates of conducting a coordinated

campaign of push polls, television and radio advertisements, and fliers that falsely accuse the former governor of accepting illegal campaign contributions, giving government contracts in exchange for contributions, and keeping contributions for personal gain.

(Push polls, which are illegal in some states but not Hawaii, are phone calls made to voters that spread negative information about a candidate under the guise of collecting data for polling purposes.)

PRP is a partnership between the carpenters union and unionized construction companies in the state and is a strong supporter of the city’s $5.26 billion rail project.

“Our research showed that during the primary, the PRP ads might have cost me a win in the primary,” Caye­tano said. “So we have no reason to believe that the numbers weren’t affected in this particular case because PRP, they’re a very sophisticated organization.”

Cayetano has called on Caldwell to publicly denounce the attacks. Caldwell has declined, saying he does not want to give the appearance of illegally coordinating with a political action committee. Caldwell said with so many ads in the mayor’s race as well as other statewide and national races, it’s hard to tell what impact, if any, the PRP ads have had.

“At the end of the day, I think people are smart enough to sort through all these negative ads,” he said.

The PRP campaign alleges Cayetano accepted more than $500,000 in illegal campaign contributions in his last run for governor, and that donors received millions in nonbid government contracts. Cayetano has denied the allegation and the Campaign Spending Commission cleared him of any wrongdoing.

John White, PRP’s executive director, has said the group is simply calling attention to parts of Cayetano’s record that are in the public record. Other ads have focused on the pardons he issued as governor, while mailers have tried to tie him to the state Republican Party.

Becki Ward, president of Ward Research, said the ad campaign appears to have had an effect on both support for Cayetano and public support for rail.

The recent poll found 50 percent now say work should continue on the rail project, compared to 45 percent who say work should be stopped. The numbers are reversed from July, when 50 percent said work should stop versus 44 percent who said it should continue.

Cayetano’s favorability among voters has declined to 47 percent, compared with 56 percent in July and February. His unfavorable rating has risen to 48 percent, up from 38 percent in July and 35 percent in February.

The reverse has happened for Caldwell, with 60 percent of respondents viewing him as favorable, compared with 48 percent in July. His unfavorable rating was 31 percent compared with 37 percent in July. His rating was not taken in February.

Cayetano’s favorability even dropped among Fili­pino-Americans, to 56 percent, from 76 percent in July. His unfavorable rating among Filipinos was 41 percent, up from 22 percent three months ago. Caldwell’s favorable rating among Fili­pinos shot up to 62 percent from 44 percent in July. His unfavorable rating was

31 percent, compared with 43 percent in July. Despite the drop in Cayetano’s favorability, he still wins that demographic 51 percent to 44 percent.

The exit of Carlisle, the other pro-rail candidate in the race, was expected to result in added support for Caldwell, but Ward said the PRP ad campaign also appears to be increasing support for Caldwell and rail while taking support away from Cayetano.

“Pretty clearly to me it shows that the campaign by PRP is having an effect,” Ward said. “To see the horse race numbers with a gap like that and to see Cayetano’s unfavorable numbers spike up the way they did, to me it has to be the effect of that campaign.

“With his unfavorable spiking up, it seems to have moved to favorable for Caldwell. There are times when if one candidate loses some favor, it doesn’t necessarily transfer to the other candidate, but this time Caldwell really seems to be benefitting from that change.”

Some voters may have tuned out the ads.

Jason Kim, a cellphone sales representative from Moanalua, said he is supporting Caldwell because he supports the rail project, adding that the campaign ads have not affected his vote.

“I think the rail in itself is going to help traffic,” said Kim, 37. “Advertising, you have to look at it as advertising. They’re kind of smearing each other and I don’t really believe in that. I just think there’s way too much advertising in general. My major issue is the traffic right now.”

Retired Mililani teacher Barbara Ursal said the ads against Cayetano have affected her in the opposite way — they made her want to vote for the former governor.

“One of the things that really influenced me were these horrible, horrible ads against Cayetano,” said Ursal, 63. “The more I saw those the more I wanted to vote for Cayetano, because I felt he was really getting, it seemed to me, unfairly targeted as a person. It wasn’t on issues.”

The ads were only part of the reason. She also agrees with his position on rail.

“The more I found out about the rail the less pleased I was with the whole idea,” she added. “It seems like it’s an awful lot of money and it seems like it’s going to be really ugly and it’s going to be benefiting just part of the island.”

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