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Schatz finishes race for Senate ahead of Hanabusa

Hanohano loses her House seat

By B.J. Reyes and Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 9:56 p.m. HST, Aug 15, 2014

[Photo Gallery] Puna Voting

In one of the most narrow, dramatic races in state history, U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz edged U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in their campaign for the Democratic nomination to the U.S. Senate and the inside track to succeed the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. 

Schatz finished 1,769 votes ahead of Hanabusa. He had a 1,635-vote lead following Saturday's primary election that ended with two Hawaii island precincts unable to cast ballots because of surrounding damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.

A total of about 1,500 ballots were cast in today's makeup election, according to results from the state Office of Elections. The Hawaii County clerk previously said there were 8,269 registered voters in the two precincts, and 1,448 had already cast early mail or walk-in ballots.

The final number released tonight include about 800 absentee mail ballots that were found on a memory card on Maui, elections officials said.

Voting in last week's primary ended with ballots not yet cast from the precincts at Paradise Community Center and Keonepoko Elementary School, storm damage made roads impassable and prevented residents from getting to the polling places. The makeup vote for both precincts was held at Keonepoko today, after a legal challenge by Hanabusa to further delay the vote while more residents recover from the storm was denied Thursday.

Schatz faces Republican Cam Cavasso, a former state lawmaker, in November with the winner filling out the remainder of the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's six-year term that ends in 2016. Cavasso coasted to victory in the Republican primary on Saturday against three other GOP contenders. Most political observers expect the race in deeply blue Hawaii to remain with the Democrats.

In other races that were awaiting the outcome of the vote from today, attorney Joy San Buenaventura toppled incumbent state Rep. Faye Hanohano (D, Hawaiian Acres-Pahoa-Kalapana) by 860 votes in their five-person Democratic primary and Hawaii County Councilman Greggor Ilagan, who represents Puna, won re-election by securing more than 50 percent of the vote over three challengers in the District 5 Council race.

Hanabusa faced an uphill battle both in trying to make up the deficit and in attempting to overcome history. No U.S. senator -- appointed or elected -- has lost an election since statehood.

After a hiccup in the morning, when some voting machines temporarily went down and some voters waited an hour or more to vote, the lines had evaporated by early afternoon and only a trickle of voters were arriving at the polling place. 

Election officials brought in an additional eight voting machines from Hilo because of the wait and because some of the voting machines temporarily did not work. Some voters complained about the wait -- and a few have objected to the lack of paper ballots -- but voting has otherwise gone smoothly.

Jim Johnson, a retired teacher who lives in Orchidland, almost did not get the chance to vote.

Johnson, who said he has a five-mile round trip to his mailbox, said he had not yet received the notice about the makeup vote from the state Office of Elections. But he acknowledged that he did not check his mail on Thursday. He found out Thursday night on the Internet that the vote was being held on Friday.

"How was I supposed know the election was going to be here," said Johnson, who went to vote at his precinct last Saturday at Hawaiian Paradise Community Center, but it was closed because of nearby damage from Tropical Storm Iselle.

Asked what he thought of the delayed election, he said: "It's a bit of a disaster."

Others who were unable to cast ballots on Saturday because of storm debris appreciated the second chance. "That's your fundamental right. You have to do it, no matter what," said Gloria Emery, a paralegal who lives in Hawaiian Shores and "was too buried in trees" to vote Saturday.

"I don't think it would have been good to drag it out," she said of the timing of the vote. "People are excited to come and get it over with."

The tight race mirrored recent polls that showed little distance between the two Democrats. 

Although Hanabusa did not announce her intention to seek the Senate until May 2013, the rivalry between the two formed earlier, beginning almost as soon as Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz, his former lieutenant governor, to replace Inouye in December 2012 instead of granting the senator's last wish. Inouye, in the hour before he died, had a letter delivered to Abercrombie reminding the governor he preferred that Hanabusa succeed him.

The appointment set off a rigorous primary campaign that was more venomous than the Democratic primary for governor between Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige. The two races overlapped on both emotional and political levels.

Irene Hirano Inouye, the senator's widow, and several prominent Inouye political allies and staff backed Hanabusa's primary challenge. Retired U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, former Gov. George Ariyoshi and former Gov. Ben Cayetano also endorsed the congresswoman.

But the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and other Senate leaders gave their allegiance to Schatz despite their old colleague's wishes. Schatz also won the endorsement of Hawaii-born President Barack Obama and former Vice President Al Gore.

The closeness of the race also was reflected in polling. The Hawaii Poll last month had shown Hanabusa with a single-digit lead, while other public and private polls indicated that Schatz had the edge. The largest difference between the polls was that the Hawaii Poll projected a smaller percentage of white voters would participate in the primary than the other surveys presumed.

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