Rick Blangiardi holds a solid double-digit lead over fellow first-time candidate Keith Amemiya in the race for Honolulu mayor, according to the latest Hawaii Poll.
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll shows the retired broadcast executive with 49% support among survey participants versus 36% for Amemiya with less than three weeks before the Nov. 3 general election. A fairly significant 15% remained undecided.
Blangiardi showed broad support across nearly all demographic groups, outpointing Amemiya in every gender, age and ethnicity category. The only demographic where Amemiya fared better was among those who identified themselves as Democrats, a group the former insurance executive has made a big effort to cultivate, even though city elections are nonpartisan.
Current Mayor Kirk Caldwell is unable to seek reelection due to term limits.
The Hawaii Poll, conducted Monday to Wednesday by Washington, D.C.-based Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy, surveyed 625 registered Oahu voters who indicated they are likely to vote in the general election. The margin of error is plus or minus 4 percentage points.
“I’m encouraged, I’m grateful and I’m inspired by what appears to be a strong, solid vote of confidence by a significant group of people on this island who want to allow me to have the privilege of becoming the next mayor of the City and County of Honolulu,” Blangiardi said Friday.
He said he and his supporters aren’t taking that support for granted and will continue to push out his campaign’s message. “We’re not letting up until the scoreboard flashes,” he said.
Amemiya on Friday questioned the veracity of the Hawaii Poll results, describing them as “inconsistent with our own internal polling and the feedback we’ve received from the public while on the campaign trail.”
His campaign’s 12-day rolling poll, conducted by Honolulu-based Solutions Pacific, shows Blangiardi ahead by the narrowest of margins, Amemiya said.
Solution Pacific’s poll of 1,212 respondents taken Sept. 28-Oct. 9 showed Blangiardi on top at 37% support with Amemiya right on his heels at 36%, according to the Amemiya campaign. Like the Hawaii Poll, the survey tapped registered voters who indicated they are voting in the general election.
Amemiya also noted that the Star-Advertiser’s late July Hawaii Poll showed him finishing third in the Aug. 8 primary election with 13% support, behind Blangiardi with 21% and former U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa at 20%.
When the votes were tallied, Amemiya finished second with 20.2% of the vote, knocking Hanabusa, who was third with 18.4%, off the November ballot along with a dozen other hopefuls. Blangiardi advanced easily, taking a 25.6% share.
Amemiya also raised strong objections to a separate poll conducted by Civil Beat and Hawaii News Now, whose results were announced last week and showed Blangiardi with 48% support, Amemiya with 28% and 19% undecided.
Amemiya’s campaign said media outlets should not be publishing poll results when voters have already received their ballots by mail and have begun to return them.
In an email to supporters last week, the Amemiya campaign said the Civil Beat/HNN poll “nonsensically shows Keith trailing his opponent by 20 percentage points.” Supporters were also told that the Star-Advertiser could be expected to run its own poll and not to be discouraged “if that poll contains the same flaws as the Civil Beat/HNN poll and also shows a lead for the newspaper’s media friend and endorsee, Rick Blangiardi.”
The Star-Advertiser’s editorial section endorsed Blangiardi over Amemiya on Oct. 11.
Veteran Star-Advertiser political columnist Richard Borreca said the Hawaii Poll results reflect the effectiveness of each mayoral hopeful’s campaigning since the primary.
“The new poll shows that winning a Honolulu mayor’s race takes a unique set of qualities and an understanding of the voters,” Borreca said.
The Blangiardi campaign’s decision to put more focus on female voters has proven successful, he said, noting that 47% of female Hawaii Poll respondents voiced support for him while only 36% said they support Amemiya.
“For Blangiardi, a tough-talking former football coach that has already locked up the men’s vote, to be performing strongly among women voters is just a disaster for Amemiya,” Borreca said.
Meanwhile, “Amemiya’s biggest mistake was going negative early in the campaign,” Borreca said. “Trying to make Blangiardi a Trump clone was foolish. Yes, Hawaii is a Democratic state and Trump is widely unpopular, but Blangiardi is not a Republican figure, never campaigned for Republicans or Trump, so trying to make Blangiardi a political villain comes across as pointless name-calling.”
Blangiardi has said that while he voted for Trump in 2016, he’s been disappointed by the president’s performance and will not vote for him this year.
Hauula resident Susan Alicen Nielsen, a Hawaii Poll respondent, said she is voting for Blangiardi because she regards his business resume as better than his opponent’s. “He’s not a politician, he’s a businessman and businessmen know how to do business,” Nielsen said.
Voters weigh in
Casting her vote in the 2020 election will be a heartfelt and bittersweet note for Nielsen, 62. After 12 years of successfully operating the Hauula Palms Cinemas twin theater complex, Nielsen and her husband, Don, were forced to shut down in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions imposed by the city. When they were allowed to reopen, they were not permitted to operate their refreshment concession, and that didn’t make financial sense, she said.
Now the couple is moving to Nashville, Tenn., where the two can afford to live and can be close to their grandchildren, Nielsen said.
Nielsen said businesses were shut down for too long and the reopening plan for Oahu put out by Caldwell places too much emphasis on urban Honolulu. “I just hope the new mayor looks at the whole island, not just Honolulu,” she said.
Nielsen said the North Shore region also has been hit hard by Caldwell’s decision to crack down on unpermitted vacation rentals, which she believes was a mistake.
Diamond Head resident Aris Springs, who recently graduated from law school and is awaiting his bar exam results, said he chose Blangiardi in the primary but wants to study the candidates’ positions more before deciding who to vote for in the general election.
Springs, 28, said his decision will hinge on which candidate has the best plan to navigate the city out of the pandemic and address long-term economic issues including affordable housing.
Springs said he supports the crackdown on illegal vacation rentals because they take away housing inventory from local residents. “A lot of the people who were born and raised here can’t afford to live here because of how expensive it’s getting,” he said.
Pauoa resident Cleighton Uchima, who is in his mid-40s and works in the retail industry, also is undecided. For him, it will come down to which of the two men will be more truthful and transparent with Honolulu residents.
Uchima said he won’t vote for incumbents unless they have a sterling track record because he feels they tend to make too many promises to too many people — and often not to the right people.
“I just feel that when people are too far into politics, they’re not really there for the people who elected them there,” he said.
Uchima said he voted for Realtor and activist Choon James in the primary because he appreciates that she was actively engaging the public on the issues via Facebook. “She actively talks to people and has discussions with people,” he said.