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Hawaii political parties say unity is key in fall

The day after voters chose Democratic and Republican nominees, the leaders of Hawaii’s two major political parties on Sunday urged their candidates and activists to unify if they hope to celebrate victories in the fall.

The unity theme was most evident at a traditional, post-primary breakfast of Democrats, held at Honolulu’s Japanese Cultural Center.

For months, former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie and ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann duked it out for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in a barb-filled contest between two men who have worked with and battled each other since 1986.

But despite Abercrombie’s nearly 22 percentage point victory on Saturday, he and Hannemann warmly embraced at Sunday’s unity event to loud, sustained applause from dozens of fellow Democrats.

“Differences aside, what’s important is we take back Washington Place,” Hannemann said, referring to a museum that once was the official residence of Hawaii governors. “So Neil, we’re ready to hit the road for you.”

And that’s what the one-time antagonists did. Along with former state party chairman Brian Schatz, who on Saturday handily won the Democratic nod for lieutenant governor, Abercrombie and Hannemann flew to Maui and Kauai for similar unity events Sunday. On Monday, they are to join Big Island Democrats in Hilo and Kailua-Kona.

Abercrombie said he would appeal to Hannemann’s backers. “I have to honor and respect the trust that was placed by those votes that went to Mufi Hannemann, and I intend to do that,” Abercrombie said.

The former congressman may face difficulties with some Hannemann voters.

In recent weeks, some said they were put off by Abercrombie’s support for same-sex civil unions or other aspects of the longtime Hawaii politician.

“I’ve disliked the looks and antics of the other guy for 40 years,” Dave Oberheu of Honolulu said Saturday after voting for Hannemann.

But other Hannemann supporters said they’d stick with the Democrats. “I like Mufi because I know Mufi would do a lot better job,” Ale Ropeti of Pearl City said Saturday. “But come (the) general, if Neil wins, I’ll vote for Neil because there’s no other alternative.”

Republicans on Sunday also sought to display unity at a noon gathering outside their Honolulu headquarters.

Hugging on the stage at one point were state Rep. Lynn Finnegan and the Honolulu attorney she easily beat for the GOP lieutenant governor nomination, Adrienne King, as well as 2nd Congressional District candidates John Willoughby and Ramsay Wharton.

According to the state Office of Elections on Sunday, Willoughby had a 235-vote lead with all precincts reporting.

Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican who leaves office in December after two terms, suggested the Democrats weren’t nearly as united as the GOP.

“We’re in a good position because our candidates truly are respectful of each other and they will be there for each other,” she said.

Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, who trounced Honolulu lawyer John Carroll for the GOP gubernatorial nomination, on Sunday proposed to debate Abercrombie six times before the Nov. 2 general election, beginning Friday with a focus on the economy and jobs.

The response from Abercrombie campaign spokeswoman Laurie Au was noncommittal: “Neil looks forward to engaging with the lieutenant governor in the general election.”

Aiona also signaled that he will ask voters to retain the current split of political power at the state Capitol between the Democrats who control the legislative branch and the Republicans who control the executive branch.

“We gotta get balance,” he told Republicans Sunday. “So we need to play smart and win smart.”


Associated Press Writer Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.

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