- Special Projects
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz embraced U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono on Saturday night and told her he was replaying the events of a colleague’s life.
“I feel like Al Franken,” he said.
Franken is Minnesota’s junior senator, who in 2008 was locked in a tight race with Republican Norm Coleman. They were separated by only a handful of votes, and it took nearly nine months and a lawsuit to settle who won.
Schatz finds himself in a similarly close race.
He leads U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa by 1,635 votes and there are two precincts on the Big Island where registered voters have yet to cast all their ballots. Tropical Storm Iselle caused state elections officials to shut down polling stations in those precincts.
While Schatz has significantly more padding than Franken — who ultimately won by 312 votes — there’s some potential narrowing on the way.
There are about 8,200 registered voters in the Puna district on the Big Island where voting has been extended.
Voters who did not already cast absentee ballots or participate in early walk-in voting will be able to vote by mail possibly as soon as this week.
Both Schatz and Hanabusa plan to be on the ground to capture as many of these votes as possible.
That means lots of door knocking and maybe even some sign waving.
“The one thing I learned about this race is that the neighbor islands always feel that we are Honolulu centric,” Hanabusa told the crowd Sunday morning at the Democratic Party Unity Breakfast.“So to get to the position that we’re in where they will make the final call, it must make them feel very good.”
Both candidates acknowledged that making sure Puna residents have food, water and power will take priority over their campaigns. But they were equally as energized by the prospects of old-school grassroots campaigning.
“The people of Puna are not yet in a position to think about elections,” Schatz said. “We’re hopeful and confident that will happen soon.”
Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who lost badly Saturday to state Sen. David Ige, said state emergency crews were working with the National Guard on the Big Island to clear roads, restore power and deliver food, ice and water to Puna.
According to Hawaii Electric Light Co., about 8,100 residents were still without electricity Sunday, with most customers in the Puna district.
Abercrombie told the crowd at the unity function that he expected some sense of normalcy in a matter of days, although he did not give a specific timeline.
“I can assure you we will get this election completed in record time.” — Gov. Neil Abercrombie
That included getting ballots to voters and finalizing the election results that so far have left Schatz and Hanabusa in limbo.
“I can assure you we will get this election completed in record time,” Abercrombie said. “People deserve to have the elections handled in an expeditious manner that they can have confidence in.”
While there’s a lot of drama swirling around the Puna precincts, it’s unclear just how much those votes will influence the bottom line between Schatz and Hanabusa.
Hawaii historically has abysmal voter turnout, and this year has been no different.
Statewide only 41 percent of registered voters cast ballots in the primary, based on numbers released by the elections office so far. In Hawaii County, that percentage was even lower, at about 38 percent.
When also considering that many people have already voted absentee and possibly in other party primaries, that shrinks Hanabusa’s potential voter pool even more.
Schatz already has the edge on Hanabusa on the Big Island with a one percentage point lead. He also leads in the two Puna precincts that have reported voter numbers.
Most telling about these precincts is that the absentee mail-in ballots made up more than 40 percent of the turnout.
That means it’s likely that many of the votes Hanabusa needs may have already been cast.
|Precinct||Brian Schatz||Colleen Hanabusa||Percent Mail-In|
*HD4-01 and HD4-02 are the two precincts that have yet to complete voting.