At the 11th hour on the 11th day of the — well, the eighth month — many questions about Hawaii politics and government might just be answered.

That’s when the last printout from the state Office of Elections is expected. Though results won’t be finalized until the wee hours of Sunday, chances are that a good number of races will be settled.

What will we know?

The future of Honolulu rail, for one — will Ben win it all?

The power of establishment Democrats, for another — will Mazie pull out a win?

The mystery of all those different public opinion polls — who was right, who was close, who was not?

Here’s what’s at stake in Saturday’s primary election:

Rail

Ben Cayetano is poised to take 50-percent-plus-one of the vote in the Honolulu mayoral contest, according to Civil Beat’s most recent poll. If he wins, we might be saying goodbye to a $5.26 billion rail system and hello to bus rapid transit.

Or not.

If the former governor is kept under the magic threshold, either current mayor Peter Carlisle or former mayor Kirk Caldwell will have another shot in the general election, with the possibility that pro-rail supporters will rally around the remaining pro-rail candidate. That could make for a very close race, especially given that Cayetano seems to have largely plateaued at fundraising but Caldwell is still cashing checks.

Democrats

Establishment Democrats from D.C. to Hilo are solidly behind Mazie Hirono in the U.S. Senate contest. Ed Case has been wildly out-raised, outspent and out-supported.

But not outpolled.

In three separate surveys conducted this year, Civil Beat has reported that Hirono and Case are in a dead heat. If Hirono wins, it shows the still-potent strength of the party. If Case wins, the result could do what Case himself recently suggested: drive a stake into the heart of the Democratic machine.

On a lesser level, a similar showdown involves Laura Thielen seeking to displace state Sen. Pohai Ryan. The Democratic Party of Hawaii, while not endorsing a candidate in the race, has tried to keep Thielen from running as a Democrat, a nasty internecine battle that has played out in public.

Polls

Ian Lind, Kaaawa blogger, lover of cats and sunrises, posted an item Thursday with a headline that captures things nicely: “The big election matchup: Robo polls vs. traditional political surveys.”

Besides the winning candidates, the winning polsters — that is, those whose polls came closest to the actual vote — may be entitled to their own victory lap come Saturday. But, as Ricky Ricardo said, someone’s going to have “some ’splaining to do.”

Careers

After Saturday, Mufi Hannemann will be either headed to D.C. or helping Gail sell Girl Scout cookies.

Other political careers on the line include Case’s, Hirono’s, Caldwell’s and Carlisle’s. Same goes for a number of candidates in legislative and county council races. Fresher faces will be wanting their own shot.

Firsts

If Hannemann wins, Hawaii will be sending a Mormon with Samoan ancestry to Congress. If Tulsi Gabbard wins, we’ll send a Hindu with Samoan ancestry.

If Hirono wins and defeats Linda Lingle in November, she’ll be the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, and the first female senator from Hawaii. First Buddhist in the Senate, too.

Lingle would also be the first female senator. If Cayetano wins, he would be Honolulu’s first Filipino mayor and certainly the first former Hawaii governor to become a mayor.

Legislature

Because of decennial reapportionment, all 76 seats are up in the Hawaii Legislature.

For a more detailed story on who is running, read Civil Beat’s recent story.

But, for a short-hand list, here are the races to keep an eye on, as they could influence leadership fights and battles over legislation next session — like bills regarding the environment versus developments.

Many races pit a former office holder challenging an incumbent, most of them Democrats.

Senate

  • Lorraine Inouye versus Malama Solomon, Alex Sonson versus Clarence Nishihara: Former lawmakers trying to unseat incumbents

  • Carol Fukunaga versus Brian Taniguchi: Two incumbents thrown in the same district

  • Pohai Ryan versus Laura Thielen versus Levani Lipton: Incumbent facing two strong challengers

House

  • Pono Chong versus Jessica Wooley, Heather Giugni versus Mark Takai: Two incumbents thrown in the same district

  • Bert Kobayashi versus Brian Yamane: Two former office holders running for an open seat

  • Lei Ahu Isa versus Scott Saiki: Former lawmaker trying to unseat an incumbent thrown in a new district

  • Romy Cachola versus Nicole Velasco, Rida Cabanilla versus Matt LoPresti: Veteran lawmakers being challenged by aggressive newcomers

  • Gregg Takayama versus Eloise Tungpalan: Former TV reporter against a former lawmaker in an open seat

Another undercurrent: Wooley, Takai and Saiki have fought to remove House Speaker Calvin Say.

Counties

On Oahu, no race is hotter than the District 1 City Council race where Mel Kahele, Kym Pine and Alex Santiago are seeking to dump incumbent Tom Berg. Berg, who barely won a special election two years ago, is controversial and anti-rail. Pine is a state legislator, Santiago is a former state legislator and Kahele is a union lobbyist. All are pro-rail in a district that will be a key part of the Honolulu rail system.

Things are pretty hot as well, we hear, between Joey Manahan and Martin Han who are running for the District 7 Council seat. Manahan is a state legislator, Han is a first-time candidate. They’ve been going at it over campaign spending issues.

Also of interest: Will former state senator Ron Menor make a comeback in the District 9 race? Will former state senator Gary Hooser land a seat on the Kauai Council? What about former Big Island mayor Harry Kim and current council chair Dominic Yagong? Can they unseat current Mayor Billy Kenoi?

Minors

It doesn’t often happen, but sometimes a candidate comes out of nowhere and pulls an upset. When that happens, nobody looks dumber than media types like me.

If, say Bob Marx or Esther Kiaaina — or Miles Shiratori or Rafael Del Castillo — defeat Gabbard and Hannemann in the CD2 race, good for them; maybe the media will take minor candidates more seriously down the road.

Also, look to see whether independent candidates Keiko Bonk in the House District 20 race and Kanokowailuku Helm in the Senate District 7 race pull enough votes in the primary to advance to the general.

Turnout

The bar is soooo low.

Despite a hot primary for governor and Honolulu mayor in the 2010 primary, turnout was nearly the lowest ever in a gubernatorial year — about 43 percent of registered voters.

In 2008, when there wasn’t a governor’s race, primary turnout was just 37 percent (and I’m rounding up).

Way to go, Team Hawaii.

Some things that may impact turnout in 2012 — besides apathy — are reapportionment, as many people now live in a new district. And, there are always unexpected factors, like weather and watching the Olympics.

This is also the first time our primary has been held in August. It’s still summer, and it’s very hot. But so is this election.

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