Experts are predicting an increase in voters as they decide the Democratic candidate
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Sep 17, 2010
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Mazie Hirono and Ed Case could not do it in the Democratic primary for governor in 2002. Daniel Akaka and Case did not do it in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in 2006. Political analysts wonder whether former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann have the ability to drive voter turnout tomorrow in the Democratic primary for governor.
Primary turnout, which is typically lower than in general elections, fell to a record-low 36.9 percent two years ago and has hovered around 40 percent for the past decade.
Even competitive campaigns involving prominent candidates have failed to increase voter participation, but analysts are predicting slightly higher turnout tomorrow, mostly because of the contested primary for governor and the mayoral races in Honolulu and on Maui.
"It'll be higher," said Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa. "There certainly is more interest in this election. And there is certainly more enthusiasm for this election."
Dan Boylan, a political analyst and retired UH-West Oahu history professor, is also optimistic.
"I think it will be a pretty good turnout for a primary," he said.
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Strategists believe that average to above-average turnout would likely benefit Abercrombie, who has led in public and private polls and is scoring better with traditional Democrats and union members who are the most likely to vote in the primary. Hannemann would likely benefit from substantially higher turnout, particularly if he can win back independents from Abercrombie and get more conservative voters to pull Democratic primary ballots.
Gov. Linda Lingle and Dylan Nonaka, executive director of the state GOP, have appealed to Republican voters to leave the Abercrombie and Hannemann contest alone and pull Republican ballots. But recent history suggests most voters will take Democratic ballots.
In the 2006 primary, which was dominated by the Akaka and Case Senate race, just 12 percent of voters pulled Republican ballots. In the 2002 primary, when Hirono and Case squared off in the governor's race, about 30 percent took Republican ballots. The Republican base is about a third of voters.
Abercrombie said yesterday that he believes his campaign is surging. Over the past 10 days, he has raised $221,000 -- including $176,950 detailed in a campaign-spending report filed on Wednesday -- and has broken the $3 million mark in donations. Hannemann -- who has raised $3.4 million, including money transferred from his mayoral campaigns -- did not file a late donation report but had a significant advantage in cash on hand at the start of September.
"It's not about me, or Mufi Hannemann, or Duke Aiona. It's about the future of Hawaii," Abercrombie said. "It's about whether or not we've got a new vision for a new day in Hawaii, and whether you want the politics as usual, the status quo, or whether you want to go in a new direction.
"That's the decision. It's crystal-clear."
Hannemann said he trailed Duke Bainum in the polls just before his victory for mayor in 2004 and had his re-election support eroded by the contested vote on rail transit in 2008.
"We know we've been down this road," he said. "We've faced it before."
Hannemann has encouraged all voters -- Democrats, independents and Republicans -- to pull Democratic ballots because he believes he has the broadest appeal.
"This is about someone who can pull the state out of a very difficult time because of the skill sets that he brings to the job as a manager and administrator," he said of his message. "And he'll do it in a collaborative style."
Crossover voting is relatively common because of Hawaii's open primary system. Many Republicans often vote in high-profile Democratic primaries because Democrats have dominated politics since statehood and are usually favored to prevail in general elections.
While Hannemann may be able to attract independents and Republicans because of his opposition to civil unions or because he is more friendly to business, others are upset with him over the general-excise tax surcharge for rail, dislike his leadership style and believe Abercrombie would be easier for Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona -- the leading Republican candidate -- to beat in the November general election.
But crossover voting will not help unless Hannemann can credibly compete with Abercrombie among the Democratic faithful. Both candidates are scheduled to address Democrats tonight at the traditional election eve rally in Hilo, a bastion for party loyalists.