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She is also the chosen successor of the most powerful, revered figure in Hawaii over the past half century, the late Dan Inouye.
And yet, Hanabusa, a U.S. representative, is far behind Schatz, a U.S. senator, in the chase for campaign contributions. According to their most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission, Schatz has a 3-to-1 cash-on-hand advantage over his 2014 Democratic primary challenger.
At the end of the Oct. 15 quarterly filing period, Schatz reported having about $2 million in cash as compared with $771,000 for Hanabusa.
“I think Schatz has been chosen, not just for the seat, but as the establishment candidate going forward, and the DSCC is behind him,” said Nathan Gonzalez of Rothenberg Political Report . “That not only opens fundraiser doors for the senator, but it closes fundraiser doors for Hanabusa, making it more difficult for her to raise money. That is one thing the DSCC can do is tell some of their biggest donors, ‘You need to get involved with Schatz.'”
Jennifer Duffy of the D.C.-based Cook Political Report also thinks it’s been tough for Hanabusa to raise money from traditional Democratic donors.
“I suspect that Democrats in Washington are making it very hard for her to raise money here,” she said. “That would not surprise me at all. It is fairly typical behavior in these situations.”
The DSCC endorsement appears to be paying dividends.
Schatz has raised $2.7 million so far this election cycle, with about $430,000 coming from political action committees. Hanabusa has raised less than half that amount, $1.2 million in donations, with $194,000 in PAC money.
The ad, running in the Honolulu market, is part of league’s $1 million national ad campaign “to thank five members of Congress for protecting public health and promoting clean energy jobs.”
But Schatz is a sitting senator, and he has to be pleased that the league is highlighting one of his top legislative priorities independently from his campaign. The conservation group is generous in other ways, too: It has contributed $7,995 to him via its Action Fund PAC.
The Hanabusa campaign declined comment for this story. Privately, it conceded months ago that it would not beat Schatz in fundraising.
The emphasis instead is on an intensive grassroots effort to raise money and get out the vote. Peter Boylan, communications director for Hanabusa for Hawaii, sent out an email Thursday titled “You Should Have the Chance to Ask.”
Boylan states in the email, “Our race is dead even and the people have not had a chance to vote for their next U.S. Senator. These forums will give them a chance to hear directly from Colleen and Brian about where they stand on the issues facing Hawaii and our nation.”
Boylan’s email alludes to a major point: That Schatz was appointed to Inouye’s seat, not elected. The email also cites Civil Beat’s June poll showing the race to be a dead heat.
Duffy said the Hanabusa tactic was a good idea.
“In this race right now, people are treating it like it’s a sprint. It’s not. It’s a marathon — the primary is months and months away,” she said. “So, use the best polling data for you, whether it’s yours or somebody else’s. And fundraising emails are all written by aspiring fiction writers. But you are telling your own story.”
She said the forums help Hanabusa, not Schatz. “Sure, the more she can get them together, the better off she is, and that’s why he’s not going to do it,” Duffy said. “His numbers are pretty shallow, fine but not deep. She is much better known, and people have a much better sense of who she is.”
Beside the League of Conservation Voters, Schatz has pulled in other PAC money in the four- and five-figure range.
They include the Council for a Livable World Candidate Fund ($6,622), the “new, blue” Democrat PAC Forward Together ($10,000), the Democratic leadership Prairie PAC ($10,000), the Friends of Israel PAC ($5,000) and World Alliance for Israel PAC ($2,000).
Schatz also received $10,000 from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), a major trade union.
John Hart, a professor and chairman of Hawaii Pacific University’s communications department, said the union support is critical.
“Schatz has done a good job of making national connections in Washington, and he has national money and contacts with unions that are talking to local unions,” he said. “That’s why the union money is going his way.”
Hanabusa, a former labor attorney, is drawing some labor support. It includes $10,000 from the Sheet Metal Workers’ International Association PAC.
Her biggest PAC supporter is pro-choice EMILY’S List, which has contributed $44,000. And the First Hawaiian Bank Citizenship Committee PAC has given several thousand dollars to both candidates.
Both campaigns are largely holding back on expenses at this point in the campaign. One priority has been polling: Schatz paid The Mellman Group, a well-respected national group, $59,700; Hanabusa paid $11,413 to Honolulu-based QMark Research. Schatz, however, has spent much more for travel and lodging, perhaps to raise money.
Besides the usual suspects of local donors — for instance, Walter Dods for Hanabusa ($5,100) and John Radcliffe for Schatz ($5,100) — both candidates have attracted notable donors nationally. They include A & M Records co-founder Jerry Moss, who gave $5,200 to Schatz, and philanthropist Michael Armand Hammer, who gave $4,000 to Hanabusa.
It’s not clear how Inouye’s endorsement has helped Hanabusa financially. But several of his former colleagues in the U.S. Senate, like Charles Schumer and Harry Reid, have embraced Schatz.
“In Senate circles, Democratic circles, it’s pretty clear that the powers that be mainly favor Schatz,” said Larry Sabato of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “That’s why everyone in the Democratic caucus seems to be pulling for Schatz, partly because he is there and they like him, and maybe they are not that crazy about Hanabusa. It is surprising women in the caucus have not helped her, but it is probably because they do not want to alienate a current colleague.”
HPU’s Hart has a different take on the Inouye factor.
“I differ with lots of pundits that say ‘Brian is new, Brian is change, Colleen is old, Colleen is the status quo,'” he said. “That’s incorrect. Actually, Brian is status quo, he is the sitting senator who was appointed by our Democratic governor. That’s the status quo.”
If Schatz wins, Hart said it will reaffirm the status quo; if Hanabusa wins, voters will have repudiated the governor’s choice and made clear that nobody is in charge of the party.
“The future is the uncertain — not a return to the old ways, because Dan Inouye is not here,” he said. “If she wins, it means senators are not elected for life, and a Tulsi Gabbard starts looking at which Senate seat to run for, and it’s a very different, new world.”
Hart thinks Hanabusa still can run an effective race despite trailing in fundraising.
“There is no question that she is a good campaigner, that she can be good on stump, that she will be good door to door and at any forums or debates that they have,” he said. “That’s when, if she can make inroads at that level, then the 3-1 money edge doesn’t matter.”
One thing that all four analysts agree on: Charles Djou will not defeat either Schatz or Hanabusa should he enter the Republican primary, as has been rumored.
“You never know, but, look, Republicans have in the back of their mind that 2014 will turn into a Senate wave election to protest Obamacare and so forth,” said Sabato. “But the last place that is likely to show up is Hawaii, one of the two to three strongest states for Obama, because he is the favorite son. It’s not impossible for Djou, he is a former congressman. But it would be the upset of upset elections.”
League of Conservation Voters television ad praising Senator Brian Schatz.