The 2014 storm of political controversy — and weather — wasn’t there this time for Colleen Hanabusa and Brian Schatz in today’s Democratic congressional primary, with both nailing lopsided victories in U.S. House and Senate races.
With almost all precincts in, Hanabusa, who is seeking a return to the House, had 64,996 votes for the urban Honolulu 1st District seat compared to the next highest vote getter, Leinaala “Lei” Ahu Isa, a trustee for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs who had 10,094 votes.
Schatz, with the benefit of incumbency in the U.S. Senate, had 147,402 votes to Makani Christensen, a Honolulu resident and founder of Keawe Adventures, with 10,736 votes.
In a storm-delayed Democratic primary in 2014 for the Senate seat, Schatz bested Hanabusa by 1,782 votes in one of the most dramatic races in state history.
At stake at the time was the likely candidate to fill the remaining term of the late Sen. Dan Inouye. A makeup election was held for two Hawaii island precincts where voters were unable to cast ballots because of Tropical Storm Iselle.
Today’s election had no such drama.
The other House seat, the 2nd District covering rural Oahu and the neighbor islands and held by Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, was hers to keep. Gabbard had 74,657 votes. Rival Shay Chan Hodges, a Maui resident, grant writer and author in her first political campaign, had 13,588 votes.
“It’s a nice evening, no question,” Hanabusa said by phone from her campaign’s gathering spot at Kakaako Agora. She said the results were a reflection of her supporters. “This is a reflection of their investment in me, and I hope that I live up to it,” she said.
Hanabusa is running for the two-year term after U.S. Rep Mark Takai died in July at age 49 after battling pancreatic cancer. Hanabusa also said she’ll run in a special election for the last two months of Takai’s unfinished term.
“If I win in the general and in the special (election) at the same time, I think that I’m probably the best person to hit the ground running because of the fact that it would be filling out Mark’s term,” she said.
Gabbard said she spent the day visiting different parts of the district on Oahu, sign-waving with supporters and “thanking people as I saw them who came up and said, ‘Hey Tulsi, I already voted for you.’ It was actually quite a lot of fun.”
The Democratic winners will face Republican and other party challengers in the general election. But barring some unexpected outcome, the three Democratic election winners appear headed toward the predictable outcome of past Hawaii congressional elections, election watchers say.
“It’s almost a slam dunk” for Hanabusa, Schatz and Gabbard to win the primary and general elections, said longtime Hawaii political observer Jerry Burris.
Hanabusa, 65, is “extremely well known,” has a political team that’s still pretty much in place, and kind of projects as a quasi-incumbent, Burris said. Hanabusa served for four years in the U.S. House before deciding to take on Schatz in the Senate, who was appointed to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
“People respect her,” Burris said. She’s “not your favorite neighbor,” he added, but, “she is your favorite leader.” Hanabusa is chairwoman of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation board.
Schatz, Burris said, is pushing his incumbency and conveying, “I’m already in there (the U.S. Senate), I’m already making friends, I’m already gaining seniority.”
Schatz, 43, says on his website that he “serves on three Senate committees essential to the future of Hawaii: Appropriations; Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Indian Affairs.” No U.S. senator has lost an election in Hawaii since statehood.
The 35-year-old Gabbard is a Sunday talk show favorite, but the high-profile national image she has cultivated is also one that some find troubling, with Hawaii voters traditionally looking more to the congressional delegation to quietly bring home the bacon.
Gabbard is not one to toe the party line, breaking with the Democratic establishment to endorse Bernie Sanders, whom she nominated for president at the Democratic National Convention. She has subsequently said she will vote for Hillary Clinton in November.
“Given the remaining choices, like Bernie Sanders I will be casting my vote for Hillary Clinton,” she has said. The Iraq War veteran said she would “push for an end to counterproductive interventionist wars and lead our country toward a path toward peace.”
The 2nd District district encompasses Maui County, Kauai, Hawaii island and rural Oahu.
Burris said Gabbard can be “provocative when it kind of enhances her visibility,” but she’s also very canny. “I don’t think the Bernie thing hurt her. There are a lot of Bernie people here.”
Over the time she’s served in Congress, Gabbard said her office has held over 700 community meetings, forums and events and responded to over 150,000 pieces of correspondence.
Burris predicted Hodges “might make some numbers” knowing Gabbard was bound to win, but with some casting a vote for Hodges to keep Gabbard “a little bit humble.”