Friday, November 27, 2015         


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Abercrombie's passion, energy and focus aid in election victory

By David Shapiro


Much of the talk since the surprisingly one-sided Democratic primary for governor has been about what Mufi Hannemann did wrong, but it's more likely a matter of what Neil Abercrombie did right.

Hannemann wounded himself with blunders such as his "I look like you" speech and his "Compare and Decide" mailer, which reinforced voter concerns about his prejudices and temperament.

But given Abercrombie's margin of victory, these likely just turned what would have been a narrower loss into a landslide.

On election night, Hannemann correctly read voters' message as, "Mufi, this is not your time."

The basic miscalculation of the former Honolulu mayor and the who's who of the local power establishment that backed him was a false belief that the election was theirs to lose; in retrospect the opposite was true.

Abercrombie and lieutenant governor winner Brian Schatz both were early supporters of Barack Obama and key players in his Hawaii campaign, which brought unprecedented excitement to the party and a new wave of activists.

Abercrombie fed off of that energy in a campaign for governor that adopted Obama's platform of hope and carried forward a loyal base of organized and motivated supporters.

He had the lead in polls from the start and ran a smart, focused, no-drama campaign that never gave Hannemann an opening to overtake him.

With voters expecting another mudfest like the 1986 Abercrombie-Hannemann congressional race, Abercrombie committed early to the high road and seldom diverted. When Hannemann went negative, Abercrombie's lecture that "this is not what a governor does" was devastatingly effective.

He took a hit for resigning his U.S. House seat, but being home all year made a critical difference in developing his message, building his organization and letting voters get to know him, especially on the neighbor islands.

It was Abercrombie 2.0 they got to know, and not only from his extensive use of social media.

He still had the passion and energy that defined his 40-year political career, but he lowered the volume with an indoor voice and fewer excitable arm gestures. He learned to listen as much as talk.

He showed respect for the office and headed off any attempt to portray him as an aging hippie by neatly trimming his trademark hair and beard and appearing in nicely pressed aloha shirts or a sharp blazer and tie.

Abercrombie displayed the maturity of his 72 years and a comfort with himself that was contagious, leaving Democratic voters at ease that the former firebrand could wield a steady hand as governor.

With an astute campaign tailored to the makeup of the post-Obama Hawaii Democratic Party, it was Abercrombie's time, and there was little Hannemann could have done about it.

David Shapiro can be reached at or

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