Last updated 11:55 p.m. Saturday

First-term Honolulu City Council member Tulsi Gabbard defeated former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and four others in the race for the Democratic Party nomination for Hawaii’s vacant 2nd Congressional District seat.

Gabbard was up 54 percent to 34 percent for Hannemann late Saturday night, with all 135 precincts reporting.

“You’re going to hear me say this many times tonight, you’re going to hear me say this many times in the future, and it is about serving the people,” Gabbard said in her victory speech at a Blaisdell conference room shortly after 10 p.m.

She dedicated her victory to those serving in the armed forces overseas, saying their sacrifices make it possible for us to celebrate democracy here at home.

Hannemann conceded the race about a half hour earlier at a rally with supporters in Kalihi. He had spent much of the afternoon and evening on Maui, and was actually in transit when the first results emerged, showing him down double digits.

“Tonight is a night perhaps that we weren’t looking forward to,” he said. “I’m a person of faith, I’m a person of prayer. The Holy Father said tonight this is not the mission for Mufi Hannemann. I’m willing to accept that. I think that when you lose, you win some you lose some. And you just go through life and you recognize that.”

Gabbard will be heavily favored in a matchup against Republican nominee David Kawika Crowley in the general election in November. Crowley beat Matt DiGeronimo after the fourth printout, 45.1 percent to 28.9 percent. Less than 20,000 Republican ballots were pulled in the district versus more than 110,000 Democratic ballots.

Rounding out the Democratic field were former Office of Hawaiian Affairs chief advocate Esther Kiaaina with 6 percent, Big Island lawyer Bob Marx with 4 percent and health care attorney Rafael Del Castillo and Vietnam veteran Miles Shiratori each with less than 1 percent.

“I actually felt that all of the candidates were a strong field, so I think that the people of the second district were very, very fortunate,” Kiaaina, who showed up at Gabbard’s campaign headquarters to congratulate her erstwhile opponent, told Civil Beat. “At the end of the day, they have made their decision clear, and I think at this juncture because there’s so many important issues facing Hawaii as well as our nation, we have to unite, not only as a Democratic Party but as a people because there’s so much at stake.”

Also making appearances at Gabbard’s party were Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and others.

Neither Gabbard nor Hannemann were able to vote for themselves because neither is a resident of the 2nd Congressional District that encompasses all of the neighbor islands and what’s known as “rural Oahu.”

For the last six years, the district has been represented by Mazie Hirono, who relinquished a shot at a fourth term so she could run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by the retiring Daniel Akaka. Hirono beat Ed Case Saturday and will face Republican Linda Lingle in the general election.

Young and Ambitious

Gabbard, 31, is less than halfway through her first term on the City Council and is new enough that Mayor Peter Carlisle mispronounced her name at a press conference they were sharing six months ago.

Elected in 2010 to represent the 6th District that includes Makiki, Kalihi and Downtown Honolulu, Gabbard has taken a consistently measured, non-committal approach to city politics. Her most significant — and riskiest — legislative accomplishment to date was introducing and passing a controversial bill banning the storage of personal items on public sidewalks.

Though not explicitly a homeless bill, the law has been used to roust encampments and encourage homeless individuals to seek treatment by confiscating their belongings. That approach has drawn criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii as well as Occupy Honolulu protestors who’ve been targeted. Enforcement for the first six months cost the city more than $100,000 and had mixed results.

Before joining the council, Gabbard had the distinction of being the youngest elected official in Hawaii legislative history when she won a seat in the Hawaii House of Representatives in 2002 at age 21. She joined the Hawaii National Guard a year later and volunteered for a deployment to Iraq, giving up her seat in the Legislature. She then worked for Akaka in Washington, D.C.

Though she started her career as a religious conservative on social issues, like her father, Hawaii Sen. Mike Gabbard, Tulsi Gabbard said her positions evolved after she was stationed overseas and witnessed firsthand the negative impacts of government-sponsored religious intolerance. If victorious, Gabbard would reportedly be the first Hindu elected to Congress.

Her campaign has focused on homosexual rights, ending the war in Afghanistan and tightening regulations on Wall Street banks — all planks of the Democratic Party platform.

Mike Gabbard, beaming and very proud at the celebration Saturday, acknowledged that he and his daughter disagree on certain issues, but praised her as an “independent thinker” who makes her own decisions.

“I’m just so proud of her. She worked her ass off,” the elder Gabbard said of his daughter. “When she came back from her second deployment, the leadership qualities that she learned as a platoon leader were just so overwhelming. It was this transformation, she was the shy one in the family.”

Also working in Tulsi Gabbard’s favor was the influx of mainland political action committee money in the race. VoteVets.org, a veterans group with ties to environmental causes, spent more than $300,000 on her behalf. The Sierra Club and Women Vote, part of EMILY’s List, also jumped on the Gabbard bandwagon.

“We saw it as an opportunity to back someone who has been a strong advocate on environmental issues in the past, particularly in contrast to, at the time, a candidate who has been anti-environment,” Sierra Club Hawaii Chapter Director Robert Harris told Civil Beat. “It presented a good opportunity to be able to really contrast two different candidates.”

The Hawaii Chapter coordinated with Gabbard’s campaign, Harris said, and spent $5,000 for her, the maximum allowed. The national group spent $147,000 more.

A Known Commodity

Hannemann, 58, was seen as the presumptive nominee when he first jumped into the race a year ago.

A graduate of Harvard University, Hannemann served in four presidential administrations (two Democratic and two Republican) and worked for Hawaii Gov. George Ariyoshi. He was elected to the City Council and then became Honolulu’s 13th mayor, holding that job for six years before he resigned to run for governor in 2010. (Gabbard is not required to resign from the council to run for Congress.)

Hannemann’s signature accomplishment during his time in the mayor’s office was the Honolulu rail project he helped push from concept to near-reality. Now unpopular with voters, the project is on the line Saturday with anti-rail Ben Cayetano running for mayor, but Hannemann got the project further than it had ever been before. Hannemann’s steadfast opposition to gay marriage due to his Mormon faith has alienated some of the party faithful.

Regardless, broader name recognition and a longer, stronger resume he said would allow him to hit the ground running on Day 1 in Congress allowed Hannemann to build an early fundraising edge. He eventually courted support from more than two dozen labor unions and three daily Hawaii newspapers on the three most populous islands — the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Maui News and West Hawaii Today.

But his big early lead in the polls — 65-20 in February — disintegrated as Gabbard introduced herself to neighbor island voters that had been previously unfamiliar with her.

A poll sponsored by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now found him up 43-33 over Gabbard in July, while The Civil Beat Poll conducted earlier this month showed Gabbard had pulled away and built a 20-point advantage.

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