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Hawaii governor faces strong Democratic challenge

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  • A Gubernatorial Candidate Forum featuring 2014 Democratic candidates Governor Neil Abercrombie and State Senator David Ige was hosted at the Japanese Cultural Center.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he took his “campaign hat” off to cope with the storms bearing down on Hawaii this week, but his effort to hold on to his seat takes center stage again in Saturday’s primary election as he tries to fend off an unexpectedly strong challenge from a fellow Democrat, state Sen. David Ige.

Polls ahead of Election Day gave Ige the edge, but they were taken before the arrival of Tropical Storm Iselle, which has given Abercrombie lots of extra time in front of the cameras during regular briefings with emergency officials and sidelined Ige.

Ige entered the race as an alternative for voters who are unhappy with Abercrombie’s previous attempt to raise taxes and a style that is perceived as confrontational. He promised in a campaign flier that “there will be no name-calling when I disagree with anyone, no disparaging remarks toward anyone, no taking sole credit for collective achievements or blaming others when things go wrong.”

But Abercrombie has been a calm presence as Iselle battered the islands and another storm threatened to cause damage as early as Sunday.

“He hasn’t done any rabble-rousing or anything,” said Barbara Ankersmit, president of the private polling firm Q Mark Research. “He’s had no criticism. He’s had nothing but praise for his team that’s worked on this, so that’s all good stuff.”

Abercrombie said if he is re-elected he would push the state to provide $100 million to address homelessness by adding more affordable housing. Ige said he would collect $450 million in unpaid taxes.

Voter turnout in the aftermath of the tropical storm is another unknown, although about half of Hawaii voters typically cast early ballots and they were encouraged to do so this time. Elections officials postponed voting in two precincts on the Big Island, saying roads were too damaged for voters to safely get to the polls. About 8,000 affected registered voters will be able to cast absentee ballots later.

Ige mounted a strong challenge despite being outspent by about 10 to 1. While Abercrombie tore through $4.9 million through July 25, Ige spent just $447,000, according to Hawaii’s Campaign Spending Commission.

The winner is expected to face Republican James “Duke” Aiona, the state’s former lieutenant governor who lost to Abercrombie in 2010, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, of the Independent Party, in November.

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