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Voters react to personas

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Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann have tried to brand their campaign themes with voters in the Democratic primary for governor.

The Hawaii Poll found that it may be working.

Voters think Abercrombie, who spent the past two decades in Congress, would be the most effective in Washington, D.C.

Hannemann, who has private-sector experience at C. Brewer & Co., best understands the needs of business, voters say.

Voters think Abercrombie, who has fought for workers’ rights, best understands unions.

Hannemann, a chief executive who speaks of the value of praying over his decisions, has slightly higher marks for character.

And voters think Abercrombie, who has framed his campaign around change, is better able to chart Hawaii’s future.

The Hawaii Poll asked voters five questions about the qualities of the two Democrats to see whether some of their main campaign messages were registering. Abercrombie and Hannemann have mostly made the primary about leadership and chief executive experience, rather than specific differences on public-policy issues, so how voters assess these qualities might influence a close election.

Audrey Watson, who works at a utility and lives in Kaneohe, is searching for authenticity.

"I’m just really tired of all of this BS," said Watson, who is undecided in the primary. "Like in the past, you like someone, you vote for them and they just let you down. I think the focus really has to be on our state and what is good for the people.

"I don’t care if anyone leaves a legacy. I don’t care," she said. "I want what’s best for our children. So I don’t know."

Jason Tamura, who works in sales and lives in Mililani, said he wants the candidates to focus on economic growth. He said he is still undecided, but he knows what the state needs most to help with the recovery.

"Jobs," he said. "I’m looking for somebody who can bring money into the state."

The Hawaii Poll found that the primary is a statistical tie, although Abercrombie has a slight edge because he has been consistently on top in public and private polls since January. The split among voters was also apparent on most of the questions about the candidates’ qualities.

The poll was taken by Ward Research for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now among 425 likely Democratic primary voters statewide. The interviews took place by telephone between Aug. 10 and Tuesday. The margin of error was 4.8 percentage points.

Voters overwhelmingly thought Abercrombie would be most effective in Washington, a natural given his experience in Congress. During the campaign, Abercrombie has said the state needs to maximize federal dollars and capitalize on the power of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, who is Senate president pro tempore and chairman of the Senate Appro- priations Committee, and President Barack Obama, who was born in Hawaii.

But voters were more closely divided on other qualities. Voters narrowly thought Abercrombie best understands the needs of unions. Abercrombie has been an advocate for labor throughout his four decades in politics. But Hannemann has been successful at weakening Abercrombie’s labor support by winning endorsements from the state’s largest private- and public-sector unions.

Voters gave Hannemann the nod for relating to business. Wealthier and more conservative voters especially thought the former mayor was more understanding. Hannemann has said that Abercrombie has not held a private-sector job in four decades.

Hannemann had a slight advantage overall on character. Interestingly, neighbor island voters thought the former mayor has the better character, while Oahu voters chose Abercrombie.

Voters think Abercrombie would better chart the state’s future but again there was a division between Oahu and the neighbor islands. Neighbor island voters think Hannemann would be superior.

Dan Boylan, a political analyst and retired history professor at the University of Hawaii-West Oahu, said he thinks the candidates are trying to reach voters with themes of leadership and chief executive experience to contrast with the past few years of the Lingle administration. Gov. Linda Lingle, whose job approval rating once rivaled that of any politician in the state, has seen her rating dip during the economic downturn.

Many voters have grown tired of clashes between the Republican governor and majority Democrats in the state Legislature.

"They both are responding to the last administration, saying, ‘I can be collaborative,’" Boylan said.

Boylan said Hannemann might be in a better position to define the final weeks of the campaign because of his fundraising advantage. He said the former mayor, however, cannot afford any more mistakes after backlash over his "I look like you, you look like me" localism riff before the Carpenters Union and a brochure that asked voters to compare where the candidates were born and went to school, as well as their wives.

Hannemann, he said, might need to look to some of the county mayors to help validate his claim that he is a collaborator.

Abercrombie, he said, should try to make use of the endorsement of former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who on Saturday referred to Hannemann as "the most dangerous politician in a generation." The Case endorsement might help Abercrombie with independents who otherwise might see him as too liberal.

"Obviously, we’re going to see an enormous amount of advertising," Boylan said of the next few weeks. "And when you listen to them, they are going after the same kinds of things."

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