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Trash-talking starts early for Schatz-Hanabusa race

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The trash-talking has started in Hawaii’s U.S. Senate campaign as U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz came out with a campaign memo last week sneering at his opponent’s efforts.

It is unusual for a campaign to get such an early start hooting and disrespecting an opponent, so the Schatz effort puzzles.

The Schatz memo was the first major negative piece in his Democratic primary campaign against U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

Hanabusa, according to Schatz, is struggling "to establish a winning campaign or a coherent rationale for her candidacy."

The memo issued by his campaign goes on to mock Hanabusa’s campaign, describing it as "foundering badly."

"From the inception, the Hanabusa campaign was propped up by outdated conventional wisdom and a handful of shifting self-created arguments why it would succeed," the memo read.

The campaign piece stresses that Schatz is the younger candidate (he turns 41 today) and will have "the promise of serving many years in the U.S. Senate."

In contrast to Schatz’s relative youth, Schatz’s memo says "Hanabusa brazenly premised her candidacy on her claim to be the most ‘experienced’ candidate."

Instead, the memo, dated Oct. 14, says Hanabusa "lacks the modern political and communications infrastructure to wage a successful Senate campaign." Schatz’s memo noted that Hanabusa’s deputy chief of staff in her Washington office resigned after a Washington Post story revealed that he appeared to try to improperly coordinate independent campaign contributions.

In comparison, Schatz brags that he "has assembled an all-star consulting and campaign team with a history of winning races in Hawaii."

The Schatz campaign memo says voters will not vote for a candidate based on ethnicity, although ethnic background has not been an issue in the campaign. Schatz instead says "progressive candidates, regardless of ethnicity, have won every major contested Democratic primary race since 2002. Although some pundits have theorized that ethnicity determines Democratic primaries, recent history clearly demonstrates that progressive ideology is the more dominant factor."

Hanabusa’s campaign is failing to match Schatz’s fundraising, the memo notes. She has picked up just $1.1 million, compared to his $2.7 million overall. Because the figures are preliminary and released by the candidates, it is not known how much of the money is dedicated for the primary and how much is marked for the general election. Schatz’s memo, however, predicts "the downward trajectory of the Hanabusa campaign as Sen. Schatz will likely continue to amass a larger war chest."

After the campaign figures were released last week, Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which supports Schatz, said in an email, "It’s clear that Sen. Schatz has put together a superior campaign organization. His impressive fundraising and endorsements are indicators of that."

Much of Schatz’s hopes for support, according to the memo, are based on his thinking that "Hawaii’s electorate has become more progressive and more Democratic-leaning." This, according to the memo, is due to new voters coming to Hawaii since the 1990s and President Barack Obama supporters. Schatz was an early Obama supporter, while Hanabusa ran the Hawaii Hillary Clinton campaign.

As for Schatz’s friends, the memo repeatedly says Schatz has won more political endorsements, especially from labor unions. The memo mentions labor endorsements seven times.

The endorsement issue is a tricky one. Democratic veterans are always wary of primary races because of the potential of splitting the party, but in the Hanabusa-Schatz contest, two former Hawaii governors — George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano — and former U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka have endorsed Hanabusa over Schatz, the incumbent. Her opening campaign rally boasted a major cross-section of community leaders.

If the Senate race is based on Schatz getting Democratic progressive and new-to-Hawaii voters, and Hanabusa is relying on traditional old-school Democrats, the resulting race will put the theory of Democratic Party unity to the test.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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