U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz handily defeated Republican challenger Cam Cavasso in Tuesday’s general election.

Schatz was far ahead of Cavasso, 67 percent to 26 percent. Libertarian Michael Kokoski trailed with 2 percent.

National media had declared Schatz the winner even before the early numbers came out. However, come January, Schatz will be a member of the minority party, as Republicans took control of the Senate on Tuesday.

With his family standing on the stage with him at the Democratic Party campaign headquarters in Moiliili, Schatz told supporters, “It’s an honor to serve as your United States senator and to be part of your congressional team.”

US Senator Brian Schatz speaks on stage at the Democratic Party of Hawaii's Democratic Coordinated Election Night Celebration held at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.  4 November 2014. photograph by Cory Lum

U.S. Sen Brian Schatz speaks at the Democratic celebration held at the Japanese Cultural Center on Tuesday night.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Now In the Minority

Asked what a Republican takeover of Congress would mean for Hawaii, Schatz told Civil Beat that his focus over the next two years would be on appropriations.

“That’s where Republicans and Democrats have been able to work together over the past four or five years, in spite of our differences,” he said. “That means funding for defense, transportation and even national parks.”

Schatz said that even before it was clear the Senate would fall to the GOP, he was already reaching out to his counterparts. He said he works well with new majority leader Mitch McConnell, and he expressed optimism that the chamber would be able to act in the best interests of the country.

“We have got to govern responsibly,” he said.

Schatz Victory Certain

The numbers for Schatz were not surprising, considering Hawaii’s history as a Democratic stronghold and his significant advantages in money and name recognition.

In fact, Schatz’s campaign never really looked at Cavasso as a threat, ignoring his requests for debates and responding to his criticisms with silence.

Cavasso, a former Hawaii lawmaker, is probably best known for losing by large margins to the late U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, whose seat Schatz now occupies.

With the win, Schatz will serve out the final two years of Inouye’s term. Inouye died in December 2012, two years after winning re-election. At the time he was president pro-tempore and the head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz, then his lieutenant governor, to replace the legendary senator until a special election could be held this year.

US Senator Brian Schatz and wife Linda Kwok Schatz greet Governor George Ariyoshi while second from left, Senator Daniel Akaka looks on,  after speaking at the Democratic Party of Hawaii's Democratic Coordinated Election Night Celebration held at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.  4 November 2014. photograph by Cory Lum

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and wife Linda Kwok Schatz greet former Gov. George Ariyoshi, right, and former U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka during Tuesday night’s celebration.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Abercrombie’s decision reverberated through the state’s Democratic Party, creating rifts among its members.

Inouye’s dying wish was for U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa to replace him in the Senate. By picking Schatz, Abercrombie made clear it was the beginning of a new era in Hawaii politics, one that would not be dictated by a war-hero senator.

This set the stage for what would become a bitter primary battle between Schatz and Hanabusa. The congresswoman felt she was slighted by Abercrombie and was not afraid to share that view with her supporters, many of whom remained fiercely loyal to Inouye.

But Schatz, as the de facto incumbent, was able to beat Hanabusa where it mattered most. He outgained the congresswoman in fundraising by nearly $2 million.

He also received support from the Democratic establishment, including an endorsement from President Barack Obama.

Still, Schatz narrowly defeated Hanabusa in perhaps one of the strangest elections in Hawaii’s history.

Tropical Storm Iselle delayed voting for thousands of people on the Big Island, and the margin elsewhere in the state was close enough that both candidates mobilized their outreach efforts to provide aid and get voters to the polls.

Hanabusa also filed a lawsuit arguing that Big Island voters in the Puna District had been disenfranchised since they were expected to vote in the midst of recovery efforts.

Schatz ultimately won that primary election by 1,782 votes.

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