Gov. David Ige easily clinched another term as governor Tuesday night, finishing the race with a six-figure vote advantage over his Republican opponent, state Rep. Andria Tupola.
Democrats Ige and his running mate state Sen. Josh Green led by a vote margin of more than 2-to-1 for much of the night over Tupola and Republican candidate for lieutenant governor Marissa Kerns.
Early in the evening Tupola acknowledged in remarks to about 250 supporters at the Neal S. Blaisdell Center that her campaign was unlikely to recover.
“I just wanted to say thank you to each and every one of you and let you know that this first printout, it was … the gap is huge,” Tupola said. “But the gap will close. But I don’t think it will close the amount we need. But I can tell you right now that what we were supposed to do, we did it.”
Standing on the stage with her husband and two daughters, she added, “If I was doing it for a career, I would be crushed right now. But I never ran for office for a career. I ran for office because I knew inside of me it was the right thing to do at that time to serve my community.”
Ige leveraged the unpopularity of Republican President Donald Trump in Hawaii to help him overwhelm Tupola’s bid for governor, a tactic that was made easier by sharp divisions within Tupola’s own party.
Kerns attacked her running mate, Tupola, publicly during the campaign, saying Tupola should apologize for her voting record in the state House because she was too liberal. Kerns also alleged that Tupola deliberately prevented Kerns from appearing at a televised debate last month, a charge Tupola denied.
While Tupola and Kerns scuffled with one another during the general election campaign, Ige presented a more united front with Green, the Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor.
“I do know that people were more motivated in different ways, and so I’m proud that as a community we learned a long time ago that when we work together we can do great things,” Ige said. “I’m glad to be able to lead our state where we celebrate our diversity, we know that when we work together we can do great things.”
Ige choked up and had to pause for a moment to regain his composure as he thanked his supporters gathered at Pomaikai Ballroom at Dole Cannery.
“What’s important here is that we can stand tall for the values of Hawaii, about caring for our community, believing in the social net and that access to health care is a right not a privilege, and about being committed to public education and a new economy that lifts all boats, knowing that labor is a strong component of our community,” he said.
Green is a physician who served in the state House from 2005 to 2009 and has been in the state Senate ever since. He became the first person to spend more than $1 million seeking the office of lieutenant governor, a position that has few official powers but has often been a steppingstone to higher elected office.
Green said the campaign has been a long haul, and he is “pleased to get to work.”
“I feel so honored to be able to serve as lieutenant governor, to be able to work with Gov. Ige, who has a heart of gold, who wants to make sure we take on the biggest challenges of our state,” he said. Green has pledged to focus his effort on homelessness, the opioid epidemic and the statewide physician shortage.
“There are real challenges for families out there that I see through the eyes of an (emergency room) doc every day, every week, every month, every year, and I hope that I’ll be able to use that experience to make a difference for our families,” he said.
Kerns, owner of a shipping and transportation company, is much less well known to voters and had spent only about $26,000 on the race by late October.
Ige was the beneficiary of local GOP infighting as well as alarm and skepticism about the national Republican Party. Fewer than 30 percent of the voters in Hawaii supported Trump in 2016, and the political brawling in Washington, D.C., over issues such as immigration, health care and climate change have not played well in heavily Democratic Hawaii.
Ige pointedly questioned Tupola about her views on Trump’s policies during a televised debate Oct. 15, part of a strategy of binding Tupola to Trump and the policies of the national Republican Party.
Tupola acknowledged during the campaign Ige was making a concerted effort to link her to Trump, but said that was part of Ige’s effort to distract from what she called his own poor record in his first term as governor.
After a hard-fought contest in the Democratic primary this year against U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Ige actually ran a low-key campaign against Tupola that suggested his team never considered her much of a threat.
Tupola, 37, is finishing up her second two-year term in the state House and is the first Samoan-Hawaiian woman to serve as House minority leader. She represents Leeward communities from Ewa to Maili, and formerly taught music at Leeward Community College.
Ige, 61, is much more familiar to Hawaii voters. An electrical engineer by training, he served as a state representative from 1985 to 1993 and as a state senator from 1994 to 2014.
He won an upset victory over his fellow Democrat and former Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the 2014 primary election and then defeated Republican former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona in the general election.
“It’s really about our supporters,” Ige said Tuesday night. “We’ve always believed in an old-fashioned grass-roots campaign, really working to earn one vote at a time with coffee hours and stew-and-rice dinners and opportunity to engage the community in smaller gatherings that really allow an engagement and dialogue with the people.”
Even with an energized and united Hawaii Republican Party, it would have been a major challenge for the GOP to seize the governor’s office. Former Gov. Linda Lingle is the only Republican to hold that office in the past 56 years, and Aiona was soundly defeated at the polls when he tried to follow in her footsteps.
Ige defeated Aiona by more than 12 percentage points in 2014, and Aiona was better known than Tupola because he served as Lingle’s lieutenant governor for eight years. In 2010 Abercrombie defeated Aiona by 17 percentage points.
Speaking from the stage Tuesday night, Tupola reminded the crowd she is a mom with two kids running for office, and “I’m not perfect.”
“I need to be taught. I am the youngest Republican candidate running for governor in the whole United States,” she said to wild applause. “When you are 37 and you run for governor, it’s because you believe in something.”
As disappointing as the 2018 race for governor proved to be for Hawaii Republicans, it did dramatically raise Tupola’s profile statewide and left her in a strong position to play a leadership role in the party.
Republican stars such as former City Councilman Charles Djou and state Rep. Beth Fukumoto quit the party, but Tupola stayed. If the Republican label hurt her politically this year, it could help her later.
“Obviously, she is setting herself up to be the future face of the Republican Party in this state if she chooses to do so,” said John Hart, chairman of Department of Communication at Hawaii Pacific University.
And despite the grim election returns, Tupola led her supporters in an enthusiastic chant of “Our time is now!” Tuesday night.
“As you can see, this movement has started,” she said.
For full Honolulu Star-Advertiser coverage of the 2018 general election, go to 808ne.ws/SA2018VOTE.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser reporters William Cole, Kristen Consillio and Nina Wu contributed to this report.