Neil Abercrombie holds the edge over James "Duke" Aiona as the election to decide who will become Hawaii’s next governor enters its final chapter.
A new Hawaii Poll found Abercrombie, the Democratic former congressman, at 51 percent and Aiona, the Republican lieutenant governor, at 43 percent. One percent preferred other candidates; 5 percent said they were undecided.
Abercrombie has led Aiona in public opinion polls taken since January. The eight-point gap between the candidates is smaller than a Hawaii Poll conducted in August, but larger than three other public polls released earlier this month.
Many voters who participated in the poll said they were drawn to the liberal Abercrombie for his promise to take personal responsibility for improving public education and for the depth of his experience as a state lawmaker, City Council member and congressman.
Voters thought the conservative Aiona would be more likely to hold out against new taxes and increased government spending. But some were wary about Aiona’s role as part of the Lingle administration and his ability to separate his strong Catholic faith from decisions on social policy.
"I think Abercrombie has a lot of experience in Washington that will be advantageous for Hawaii," said Patrick Marsh, an information technology analyst in the health-care industry who lives in Makiki.
Marsh was disappointed in the Lingle administration’s handling of teacher furloughs and the failed Hawaii Superferry project and believes Aiona bears some responsibility as second in command.
"He was either complicit with what was going on or he didn’t do anything to stop it," he said.
Doreen Adams, a social worker who lives in Hawaii Kai, believes Abercrombie would be stronger on economic issues given his four decades in politics and government. She also views him as more accepting of diversity than Aiona.
"I think he’s willing to work more with the people and what the people want and leave his own religious beliefs where they belong, in his personal life," she said.
Sherry Pang, a state account clerk who lives in Kapolei, said she likes that Aiona is not beholden to the Democratic establishment that ran the state in the 40 years before the Republican Lingle was elected in 2002.
"He’s not part of that machine," she said. "Neil is old school and Duke Aiona is a little bit more new to this."
Pang also believes Aiona would be less likely to raise taxes.
"We already pay higher county taxes and everything else is higher," she said. "I can’t imagine going any higher."
The Hawaii Poll was taken for the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now by Ward Research. The poll was based on telephone interviews with 608 likely voters statewide between Oct. 12 and Tuesday. The margin of error was 4 percentage points.
Rebecca Ward, the president of Ward Research, said the gap is right on the margin of error but predicts it will be difficult for Aiona to close before the Nov. 2 vote. "It’s going to be tough for Aiona and (lieutenant governor running mate Lynn) Finnegan to turn this around," she said.
Abercrombie’s lead was larger on Oahu than on the neighbor islands. The former congressman had the advantage across most demographic groups but trailed Aiona among Hawaiians, young people and independents. He did best among Filipino, Japanese-American and union voters.
WITH HAWAII a traditionally Democratic state, Aiona needs independents and moderate Democrats to build on his Republican base. The lieutenant governor was up among independents and was pulling more Democrats than Abercrombie was from Republicans.
Aiona was also drawing most of the voters — 63 percent to 29 percent — who said they backed former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann over Abercrombie in the Democratic primary. Ward and other political analysts believe some of these Hannemann voters likely intended to vote for Aiona all along but wanted to participate in the competitive Democratic primary.
Aiona was also taking 15 percent of Abercrombie’s primary voters. These Abercrombie voters are likely conservatives who disliked Hannemann or voted for Abercrombie for strategic reasons in the primary, believing the liberal would be a better contrast with Aiona in the general election.
Democratic strategists believe Hannemann has fiercely loyal followers who are attached to him, not a particular party, and who could be persuaded to help Abercrombie if the former mayor makes personal appeals.
Hannemann this weekend was scheduled to record a television advertisement for Abercrombie sponsored by a coalition of labor unions. He also appeared at a Maui fundraiser for Abercrombie on Wednesday and stood with Abercrombie and his lieutenant governor running mate, Brian Schatz, yesterday at a unity rally at the Filipino Community Center in Waipahu.
Earlier this month, automated telephone polls conducted for the national liberal website Daily Kos, the local news and opinion website Civil Beat, and the national polling firm Rasmussen Reports showed that the race was a statistical tie.
The Abercrombie campaign, according to several sources speaking privately, doubted the race was so close because private polls taken locally had Abercrombie comfortably ahead. But when the campaign’s internal tracking and other private polls also showed that the gap was only a few percentage points, there was genuine alarm from within the campaign that spread through Democratic circles.
Some Democratic strategists believe the Abercrombie campaign was too confident after the primary and too slow to launch against Aiona. Democrats also chose not to immediately counter the Republican Governors Association’s substantial investment in advertising to help Aiona.
In the past few weeks, however, labor unions and the Democratic Governors Association have released ads against Aiona. The Abercrombie campaign also locked down an ad featuring Hawaii-born President Obama.
While the union and the Obama ads were in the works, some Democratic strategists privately expressed doubt the DGA would have stepped up with an ad buy if the race had not tightened.
"We don’t take any race for granted, and that includes Hawaii," Emily Bittner, a DGA spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. "Our intent was always to fully support Neil Abercrombie and raise issues important to this race."
Democratic sources said private polls now show the gap has again widened, although Republican sources believe it is closer to four percentage points than eight points.
Abercrombie said the Hawaii Poll results are consistent with what his campaign is tracking. He said Hannemann’s outreach, along with help from U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and other prominent Democrats, shows the party is unified and functioning as a team.
"We recognize that politics is addition and we understand the value of teamwork," he said.
Abercrombie said the message for voters during the last week is that his campaign represents a break from eight years under the Lingle administration. "This is a choice, a very clear choice, between more of the same approach to government or embracing change," he said.
Aiona said campaigns are decided by who works hardest in the last week.
"This election is really a question of whether our voters want to bring the political culture of Washington to Hawaii, or if we’re better off with balanced, honest and fiscally responsible leadership," he said in a statement. "Campaigns in Hawaii are won by those who work hardest over the last seven days, and our grassroots supporters are reaching out to every voter in the state who believes Hawaii’s best days are still ahead."