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There has never been a Democratic Party of Hawaii primary like the one held Saturday night.
Not only was a sitting governor overwhelmingly rejected by a quiet-speaking state senator little known out of legislative circles and his Pearl City-Aiea district.
But a U.S. Senate race is too close to call, with voters in two Big Island precincts holding the fate of the eventual victor in their hands.
Indeed, just 1,635 votes separate U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Party Chairwoman Stephanie Ohigashi said the electoral battle between them was the “most dynamic, interesting and hotly contested race in recent memory.”
So, are Hawaii Democrats divided?
Not at all, based on the turnout and enthusiasm expressed by party leaders and members at the traditional day-after Unity Breakfast, held Sunday at Dole Cannery’s Pomaikai Ballrooms.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, who hosted the breakfast, told the rank and file that the races were hard fought — “and one is still going on,” she said with a smile, referring to Schatz v. Hanabusa.
“But the one thing, the one thing that we all agree on, and that is our commitment to the right priorities for the people of Hawaii,” Hirono added. “And from today we are going forward together as we Democrats always do. As we always do, we come together. We work together. We support our candidates.”
Helping to heal the wounds was Neil Abercrombie, who will be forced into early retirement come December because of David Ige’s astonishing 66 percent to 31 percent win.
The governor, who received several standing ovations Sunday, was gracious in defeat. He said that Ige and other candidates can count on Abercrombie being “behind them shoulder-to-shoulder.”
“From today we are going forward together as we Democrats always do.” — Sen. Mazie Hirono
There was no mention of the “hard choices” and “tough decisions” he made as governor, no talk of turning the ship of state around with all paddles in the water pulling toward the shore. His re-election bid is over.
(The governor did manage to get in his own contender for Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations: “Our diversity defines us, not divides us.”)
Instead, the governor talked in an unscripted, relaxed fashion. He joked how he had never enjoyed himself so much as Saturday night and Sunday morning as people heaped praise on him — a reference to how he had a pretty rough couple of months leading up to his defeat, and now suddenly everyone loves him.
If he was bitter, he did not show it.
“You are looking at a happy person here, and a happy man here, and I mean that sincerely to you,” he said.
Ige, who followed Abercrombie to the stage, thanked the governor for “taking the high road,” adding, “It makes this event a little bit easier for all of us.”
The party’s nominee for governor is already looking to the 87 days left until the Nov. 4 general election.
He said that, while the media like to “focus on differences,” in fact he and the man who he just spent the last year arguing with actually share much in common. It includes a commitment to economic growth, renewable energy and ameliorating homelessness.
Taking a crack at Duke Aiona, the Republican nominee for governor, Ige said he would not seek to arrest homeless people and throw them into court.
Ige also dismissed polls showing Aiona beating the Democrat in the general.
“You are are looking at a happy person here, and a happy man here, and I mean that sincerely to you.” — Gov. Neil Abercrombie
Indeed, Ige received 155,000 votes to Abercormbie’s 72,000. Far fewer voters (41,000) pulled the GOP ballot Saturday and voted for Aiona. Independent candidate Mufi Hannemann collected just a mere 2,000 votes in his unopposed primary.
But national Republican groups are already looking to spend big in Hawaii.
“David Ige may have beat out Governor Abercrombie, but his far-left approach would only take Hawaii further in the wrong direction,” Phil Cox, executive director of the Republican Governors Association, said in a press release Sunday.
Cox continued: “After four years of Abercrombie’s weak leadership and poor stewardship of taxpayer dollars, the last thing the state needs is another tax-and-spend liberal in the statehouse. It’s time for a big change in Hawaii and Duke Aiona will deliver that change.”
The mood and words at the Unity Breakfast suggested that the state’s dominant party would happily rally around Ige to keep the governorship in Democrats’ hands.
But there are other electoral challenges ahead.
State Rep. Mark Takai, who beat six other Democrats to win the chance to fill Hanabusa’s 1st Congressional District seat, now faces Republican Charles Djou.
Like Takai, Djou is a military veteran who served in war zones. Djou also served briefly in Congress in 2010 before losing to Hanabusa.
“This is going to be a very tough race,” said Takai, who asked for his party’s support.
Hanabusa and Schatz also spoke at the breakfast, with each pledging to continue their ground game in the days ahead on the Big Island.
The congresswoman said she had never seen an election like theirs, one that included two hurricanes that fortunately did little damage — Puna excepted, as road closures and power outages led to the closure of the two precincts.
Schatz told the audience that he did not eat very much Saturday night, given the nerve-racking back and forth of the election results. He happily chowed down on the white rice, bacon and Portuguese sausage provided at the breakfast.
Nearly all the top Democrats were in attendance, including Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who both cruised to primary victories.
One notable no show: State Sen. Clayton Hee, who lost to Tsutsui in a landslide.