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Former congressman Ed Case is the clear frontrunner in the six-way race for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, according to the latest Civil Beat poll.
Case, who entered the race in June, had 34 percent support from likely Democratic primary voters. His next closest opponent was Lt. Gov. Doug Chin who had 19 percent.
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, the race’s previous frontrunner before Case dropped in, received 15 percent support from those surveyed, a slide of 11 points since Civil Beat last polled the race in May.
“It’s interesting because there may yet be some volatility here,” said Matt Fitch, the executive director of Merriman River Group, the firm that conducted the poll. “The more activist wing is going to have to spend the last 10 days really pushing hard to consolidate behind Chin.”
The most recent poll, which was conducted from July 19-21, surveyed 403 likely Democratic primary voters in the 1st Congressional District. It has a 4.9 percent margin of error.
Other candidates in the race include state Reps. Kaniela Ing and Beth Fukumoto and Honolulu City Council Chairman Ernie Martin, all of whom had only single digit support.
Eighteen percent of those surveyed said they are still unsure about who they want to represent them in Congress.
Case’s entry into the race changed the complexion of the primary. Prior to his announcement, Kim was leading in the polls and had a significant advantage in fundraising.
In May, the last time Civil Beat polled the race, Kim had 26 percent support to Chin’s 19.
While she maintains the money lead, according to campaign filings with the Federal Election Commission, her support appears to be fading.
Kim polled better with conservative voters in both May and July. But much of that support appears to be going to Case, a so-called Blue Dog Democrat who has vowed to bring more moderate views to Congress.
According to the July poll, 54 percent of self-identified conservatives backed Case while 22 percent supported Kim. In May, 41 percent of conservatives surveyed said they would support Kim. Chin, meanwhile, does better with those identifying as liberal or progressive.
Fitch said it will be key for Kim to convince outside groups to rally around her instead of Chin in the coming weeks.
He said it appears that the most likely supporters will have to come from the more liberal and progressive wings of the party given Case’s moderate leanings.
“This is going to be interesting because there are some aggressive groups who would really like to try to unify behind one candidate,” Fitch said. “The problem is that Kim and Chin are relatively close to each other and they have not had a whole lot of luck pushing people one way or the other.”
As for Ing, Fukumoto and Martin, Fitch said he expects to see their support wane in the coming weeks.
“What the race comes down to for me is will Kim’s supporters end up backing Chin,” Fitch said.
John Staker, of Honolulu, is one person who’s planning to stick with Kim come Aug. 11, the date of the Democratic primary. His reason, he said, is because she’s a woman and there’s a push nationally to get more women in office.
“I’m on a movement, and I want more women in charge,” Staker said. “I think Ed Case is a good person, but I want more women.”
Margaret Baker, a 74-year-old independent who goes by “Mimi,” said she’s all for Case.
“I think he’s more experienced and more honest,” she said. “I also know his parents and grandparents.”
For Luis Guttierrez in Kapolei, Chin is the person he wants to see in Congress, especially while President Donald Trump is in power.
Guttierrez said he knows a lot about Chin’s background, and specifically noted his time as Hawaii Attorney General when he filed legal challenges to Trump’s travel ban that targeted majority-Muslim countries.
“He led the way in the travel ban,” Guttierrez said. “He would be a good representative for Hawaii and in Congress. He’s a former attorney general so he has experience in litigation.”
Dan Heff, a 27-year-old who lives in urban Honolulu near Ala Moana, said he plans to stick with Ing, who’s much closer in age to him.
Heff said he’s taken with Ing’s anti-establishment message, including his pledge not to take money from corporations or political action committees.
“He’s a genuine progressive,” Heff said.
In Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which represents rural Oahu and the neighbor islands, incumbent U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard has a commanding 4-to-1 lead over challenger Sherry Campagna.
Gabbard has 69 percent support among likely Democratic voters in the 2nd Congressional District compared to 16 percent for Campagna, who is a first-time candidate.
The poll, which was conducted at the same time as the 1st Congressional District survey, has a margin of error of 4.5 percent. It surveyed 468 likely Democratic primary voters in the 2nd Congressional District.
Gabbard is one of the state’s most popular politicians, and, according to the Civil Beat poll, has consistently had some of the highest approval ratings among elected officials in the state since she was elected to Congress in 2012.
She saw a slight dip in her favorability in 2017 after she revealed publicly that she took a secret trip to Syria to meet with President Bashar al-Assad, a decision that brought with it major criticism on both sides of the aisle.
Campagna, meanwhile, has been able to carve out some support, albeit probably not enough to overcome Gabbard’s significant advantages.
Campagna won the endorsement of the Hawaii State Teachers Association — a 13,700-member union — which had expressed concern over Gabbard’s meeting with Assad and her skepticism that he had used chemical weapons against his own people.
The union also had concerns over Gabbard’s vote in 2015, in which she sided with House Republicans, that would have made it harder for Syrian refugees to enter the U.S.
Still, Gabbard has huge advantages in name recognition and fundraising. According to the Federal Election Commission, Gabbard raised nearly $1.2 million in the election cycle while Campagna reported raising about $27,000.
“While Tulsi Gabbard has a more vigorous opponent than she has had in the past it thus far hasn’t translated into a loss of support,” Fitch said.
Anthony Tony Austin is also running in the Democratic primary, but was not included in the poll.
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