The 2014 storm of political controversy — and weather — wasn’t there this time for Colleen Hanabusa and Brian Schatz in Saturday’s Democratic congressional primary, with both nailing lopsided victories in U.S. House and Senate races.
Hanabusa, who is seeking a return to the House, had 74,013 votes for the urban Honolulu 1st District seat compared with the next highest vote-getter, Leinaala “Lei” Ahu Isa, a trustee for the state Office of Hawaiian Affairs who had 11,518 votes.
Schatz, with the benefit of incumbency in the U.S. Senate, had 162,468 votes to Makani Christensen’s 11,826. Christensen, a Honolulu resident, is the founder of Keawe Adventures.
In a storm-delayed Senate Democratic primary in 2014 — one of the most dramatic races in state history — Schatz bested Hanabusa by 1,782 votes.
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 after two Big Island precincts were unable to cast ballots because of Tropical Storm Iselle.
Saturday’s election had no such drama.
In the other House race, for the 2nd District encompassing rural Oahu and the neighbor islands, the seat held by U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard was hers to keep. Gabbard received 79,562 votes. Rival Shay Chan Hodges, a Maui resident, had 14,567 votes.
“It’s a nice evening, no question,” Hanabusa said by phone. 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 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 parts of her 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.
Looking to November
“It’s almost a slam dunk” for Hanabusa, Schatz and Gabbard to win in the general election, said Hawaii political observer Jerry Burris.
Hanabusa, 65, is “extremely well known” 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 then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie.
“People respect her,” Burris said. She’s “not your favorite neighbor,” he added, but “she is your favorite leader.”
Hanabusa currently 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, who is 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.”
‘Provocative’ but canny
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 U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, whom she nominated for president at the Democratic National Convention. She has subsequently said she will vote for Hillary Clinton in November.
Burris said Gabbard can be “provocative when it kind of enhances her visibility,” but she’s also canny. “I don’t think the Bernie thing hurt her. There are a lot of Bernie people here.”