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Democrat David Ige has been elected governor of Hawaii.
Hours after the polls closed, Ige was ahead of Republican Duke Aiona by a wide margin — 49 percent of the vote compared with 37 percent for the former lieutenant governor.
The Associated Press and other media outlets called the race for Ige about 8:30 p.m.
Hawaii Independent Party candidate Mufi Hannemann came in third place with 12 percent, followed by Libertarian Jeff Davis with 2 percent.
The third round of results, released around 10 p.m., reflects about 340,000 votes. The next printout is expected at 11:30 p.m., and it will reflect nearly all votes cast.
Ige, 57, will be Hawaii’s eighth governor since statehood in 1959 and the sixth Democrat to hold the office.
“This journey started 16 months ago, and it really has been remarkable,” Ige told supporters at Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Moiliili just after 10 p.m. “From all of our families, we want to thank each and every one of you for the hours and hours you put into this campaign.”
Ige added, “This election, more than any other, proves that it’s still people to people in the Democratic party.”
When the first returns were announced, Democrats gathered at the Japanese Cultural Center, where the party gathered, reacted with loud, sustained cheers. That was the pattern for the rest of the evening too, as it became clear that their guy would win.
Spencer Robinson, an Ige supporter who worked on the campaign, told Civil Beat, “He ran a clean, family-oriented campaign. With David’s great character as an example for the rest of the campaign, we were able to gel together like one happy, cohesive family and get the things done that we needed to do to win this campaign.”
Bixby Ho, vice chair of the Oahu County Democratic Party, said, in spite of the GOP wave that swept much of the mainland, he felt good about how his party did locally.
“Mostly, we’re doing very awesome,” he said. “Nationally, it was a struggle, but as long as Hawaii pulled through, that’s what matters.”
As Aiona took the stage to concede the election, the mood remained jubilant in the Pomaikai Ballroom at Dole Cannery. Pharrell Williams’ song, “Happy,” blared from speakers as the crowd danced and chanted, “Duke!”
“We are going to be supportive of the administration that is now going to take office,” Aiona told his supporters.
“We will persevere. In life sometimes things just don’t go your way and you have to pick yourselves up. That’s just the way it is. I believe in God. I believe that God had a calling for us and this was something that Elwin and I were called to do.”
Hannemann said he had no regrets about his campaign and said he believed he had a “profound effect” on the issues that were brought out during the race.
He shrugged off questions about what might be next for him politically and said he will take some time off to reflect and relax.
“I consider myself a very lucky guy,” Hannemann said.
The 2014 race for governor was expected to be a rematch of the 2010 campaign, when Democrat Neil Abercrombie defeated Aiona in a landslide. Abercrombie also handily defeated Hannemann in the Democratic primary that year.
Hannemann decided to run as a third-party candidate this time, allowing him to avoid a contested primary. Aiona, meanwhile, easily won the GOP nomination for a second time.
But Ige pulled off a stunning upset by defeating incumbent Abercrombie in the Aug. 9 primary. Though trailing badly in campaign donations, with little name recognition and with no experience running a statewide campaign, Ige managed to make the primary a referendum on leadership style.
Abercrombie had rarely lost a race in his nearly four straight decades in public office. One of Hawaii’s best-known politicians, he previously served in the state House and Senate, the Honolulu City Council and the U.S. Congress.
While the Abercrombie administration deserved credit for helping to balance the state’s budget and contribute to a healthy economy marked by low unemployment and steady construction growth, he angered key groups important to the Democratic Party of Hawaii.
Environmental groups were disappointed with the governor’s embrace of development, for example, while labor groups were angered by his imposition of a contract on the state teachers union. He also did not have many allies in the Legislature, despite its Democratic leadership.
Ige, an electrical engineer who has served in the Hawaii Legislature for the past 29 years, came to be seen by many Democrats as a calmer, more reasonable alternative to Abercrombie. Having run the Senate Ways and Means Committee, he also had budget chops and many friends in the Legislature.
Ige was also helped in his primary win by Republicans who crossed over and voted Democratic in hopes of ousting Abercrombie. Some voters were also still steaming from Abercrombie’s decision to call a special session in the fall of 2013 to pass same-sex marriage legislation rather than put the matter to a ballot vote.
That decision helped rally support for Aiona, who has traditionally done well with social conservatives. His running mate, Elwin Ahu, is a pastor with a New Hope church on Oahu. Aiona’s campaign theme is “trust, respect, balance,” things he argues have been damaged by Democrats’ one-party dominance.
Hannemann, the former Honolulu mayor, appealed to voters by putting his executive experience at the forefront of his campaign. He said it was time for residents to move away from the gridlock caused by the two mainstream political parties and embrace an independent path. His running mate is Les Chang, a former military officer who worked in Hannemann’s mayoral Cabinet.
Davis, the Libertarian, ran on a platform calling for an end to “pay-to-play” politics, in which large campaign donations dictated governing policy. A businessman in the solar industry, Davis wants to radically reform the state’s energy policy, which is dependent on imported fossil fuels.
Ige’s running mate is Shan Tsutsui, the current lieutenant governor. Tsutsui, who was appointed to his position in December 2012 by Abercrombie to fill the seat of Brian Schatz (who was appointed to the U.S. Senate by the governor), defeated Democrat Clayton Hee, a veteran state senator, in the Aug. 9 primary.
Hawaii has not seen a four-candidate race for governor since 1994.