Welcome to Ad Watch, a Civil Beat series in which we analyze campaign messages from Hawaii candidates and national spots aimed at Hawaii voters.

There was a time when the name Kim Coco Iwamoto was fairly well known.

In 2006, when she was elected to the Hawaii Board of Education, it made her “the highest-elected transgender official in the country,” as The Associated Press reported at the time.

But Iwamoto has not held elective office in Hawaii since 2011, when she completed her second and final term on the state Board of Education. The year before, voters chose to have Hawaii’s governor appoint BOE members rather than have them run for office.

A screen shot from Kim Coco Iwamoto’s first TV ad for lieutenant governor 

Name recognition of Iwamoto, who has an extensive record of community service and advocacy, may not be that high anymore. In 2012 then-Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Iwamoto as a member of the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission — not exactly a high-profile position — and she lost a state Senate race to state Rep. Karl Rhoads in 2016.

Late last month, a Honolulu Star-Advertiser poll showed Iwamoto running last among the top five Democrats competing this year for lieutenant governor. The good news was that the other four candidates didn’t poll much better, and 41 percent of those surveyed were undecided.

Iwamoto’s challenge is to elevate her brand, which is a major task since her opponents all hold elective office and are often in the news: Kauai Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and state Sens. Josh Green, Jill Tokuda and Will Espero.

It makes sense, then, that Iwamoto on April 5 ran one of the first campaign TV spots of the 2018 election cycle.

The People’s Office

The 30-second “Kim Coco Iwamoto — Together, we CAN” is fast-paced and direct. It features supporters singing her praises and emphasizing her policy priorities of education, homelessness and the environment.

The advertisement also notes Iwamoto’s pledge to turn the LG’s office — a virtually powerless post — into a meaningful position: the people’s office.

The words “Kim,” “Coco” and “Iwamoto” are repeated in staccato fashion, accompanied by rapidly multiplying head shots of supporters. The whole effect seems meant to express that Iwamoto is more popular than poll numbers indicate.

I doubt many voters care about who their lieutenant governor is, but it is second in line to the governor. Several past LGs have gone on to serve as governor or senator, so the job is important in that sense.

What Iwamoto may need to do now, however, is share more of her personal story. People like to vote for people they like, and there is a lot to find appealing about Iwamoto besides her political views.

She’s also got an interesting past.

Many locals may not be aware that the family business is the well-established transportation company Roberts Hawaii, that several of her family members were interned during World War II (Iwamoto is a fourth-generation Yonsei, or that her name comes from the place where her mother suddenly went into labor: the Coco Palms Resort on Kauai.

I’m guessing that there will be more TV ads from Kim Coco Iwamoto before the Aug. 11 primary.

View the ad:

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