Many Hawaii voters are still undecided on who should be the state’s next lieutenant governor, but state Sen. Josh Green of Hawaii island has an early edge in the crowded race, according to the latest Hawaii Poll.
A poll of 498 likely Democratic primary voters found a little more than 2 in 5, or 41 percent, are undecided on the slate of lieutenant governor candidates.
Poll participants, who all stated they vote regularly, were asked how they would vote if the Democratic primary election were held today. The primary is on Aug. 11.
Nineteen percent of respondents said they would pick Green, an emergency room doctor who has served in the state Legislature since 2004, representing Kailua-Kona.
Fourteen percent, meanwhile, said they would vote for Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr., who has has worked for Kauai County since 1985 and been mayor since 2008.
State Sen. Jill Tokuda (D, Kailua-Kaneohe) finished third in the poll with 12 percent, followed by state Sen. Will Espero (D, Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point) with 9 percent, and former Board of Education member Kim Coco Iwamoto with 5 percent.
The Hawaii Poll was conducted March 13-18 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser using telephone land lines and cell phones. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
Longtime Honolulu political columnist Jerry Burris said that based on the poll results, it appears voters aren’t paying much attention to the race.
“Either no one knows about the lieutenant governor’s race or no one cares,” Burris said. “The percentages are so low and the undecided (number) is so high that, really, people aren’t paying attention to this race yet.”
Burris said that although Green and Carvalho are from neighbor islands, they enjoy some statewide recognition because of their high-profile positions. (Former lieutenant governor Shan Tsutsui won the office as a state senator from Maui; he resigned in January.)
“Josh’s name would pop up because of the stuff he does at the Legislature. He’s been involved with some big political issues like death with dignity and medical marijuana,” Burris said.
“And Carvalho, for a while he was thinking of running for governor, so his name got circulated around a little bit that way.”
Green also spent more than his opponents in the six months ended Dec. 31, the most recent campaign finance filing period. He reported raising $203,271 in contributions and spending $156,074, but still had more than $530,000 in cash on hand.
“You see a direct correlation,” Burris said. “When no one knows very much about the race or who’s running, the guy who’s done the most advertising so far is likely to get a little bit more. … But what you’ve got here is basically not much more than name recognition.”
Green, 48, an emergency room doctor at Kohala Hospital, told the Honolulu Star-Advertiser he’s not taking the early lead for granted.
“I’m very humbled and honored that so many people across Hawaii are supporting my campaign. I really think this is more about the people of Hawaii wanting fresh leadership on issues that matter to them instead of politics as usual,” Green said.
Carvalho, 56, said he’s motivated by the poll results.
“We’ve been working so hard, grassroots style, and really getting out in the community,” he said. “Now to see where we’re at, it’s exciting. There’s lots more work to do. We have to work harder.
“I want to bring the voice of the people to the state Capitol, and we can do that with the style of leadership that I’m talking about — leadership with aloha.”
Tokuda, 41, who has served in the Senate representing Windward Oahu for 12 years, acknowledged that running a statewide campaign has been hard work. She said she plans to continue reaching out to working families.
She has served as chairwoman of the Senate Education, Ways and Means and Labor committees and previously worked as an aide to U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono when Hirono was lieutenant governor.
“Running for lieutenant governor is about making sure that you’re able to connect with people and making sure that they have a clear understanding of what your vision is for the state and what you plan to do with the position,” Tokuda said. “It is about making sure that you have a strong grassroots network and the ability to convey that message.”
Espero, 57, said given the poll’s margin of error, the race is close in his view.
“And with 41 percent undecided, it’s still an open race. Anyone can win this,” he said. “We’re at a percentage that obviously we have some points to make up, but it’s doable. Stay tuned.”
Espero noted his 26 years in state and city government. He served three years in the House before being elected 15 years ago to the Senate, where he was chairman of the Public Safety Committee and now heads the Senate Housing Committee.
Iwamoto is a civil rights attorney who served on the Board of Education. Her campaign manager Josh Frost said the candidate is unfazed by the poll results.
“These are early numbers and we’re not flinching,” Frost said in a statement. “As the saying goes, the only poll that counts is the one on Election Day. We are very excited about our campaign to share Kim Coco’s history of advocacy on a broad scope of progressive issues.”
The Hawaii Poll – March 2018: Lt. Governor's Race by Honolulu Star-Advertiser on Scribd