State Rep. Andria Tupola, a former music teacher serving her second term in the Legislature, defeated longtime Republican stalwart John Carroll on Saturday night in the race for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
In final results, Tupola had 53.0 percent of the votes, compared to Carroll’s 33.7 percent. Ray L’Heureux, a former assistant superintendent for the state Department of Education, trailed with 8.8 percent, according to the state Office of Elections.
Tupola faces a monumental task in trying to upset the Democratic incumbent, Gov. David Ige, who defeated Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa on Saturday. Democrats dominate Hawaii politics, and there have only been two Republican governors in Hawaii since statehood.
The 37-year-old Tupola, who spent Saturday night at a high school football game, has shown no fear when it comes to taking on more experienced political opponents. And she said that’s not going to change if her next opponent is a well-known Democrat.
“We’ve been looking ahead to the general since Day 1,” Tupola said in a telephone interview after early results came out. She said her strategy was to keep reaching out to voters to let them know who she is — and to keep counting votes.
“At the end of the day, all it takes is 50 (percent) plus one percent,” she said.
Tupola’s campaign for the GOP ticket has been about offering something new: youthful verve and a vision of replacing bloated, ineffective government bureaucracy with community engagement and activism.
To many Republicans, the dynamic Tupola is a fresh, new face to lead the party. She gained her legislative chops on the job during two terms in the state House.
Carroll carried trademark credentials of a GOP contender. The 88-year-old former state party chair is a perennial candidate and a former military pilot and lawyer. He also previously served four terms in the Hawaii House of Representatives and one in the Senate.
“I thought I’d be blowing her out of the water by now,” Carroll said during an interview at the New Eagle Cafe, where he was watching returns with supporters.
Carroll said if Tupola wins, he’ll throw his support behind her.
Carroll rode his name recognition to a big lead in the early polls.
A survey conducted in March by Mason Dixon Polling & Strategy for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, for instance, showed Carroll leading Tupola by 40 percent to 28 percent.
But Tupola roared ahead in the weeks before the primary.
By July, Tupola had 39 percent of the support among likely GOP voters compared to 22 percent for Carroll, a Civil Beat poll showed.
Tupola’s campaign articulated a vision of governing the sprawling Hawaiian archipelago with the hands-on, town hall-style that’s made her a popular representative and sparkplug for citizen activism in her West Oahu district.
Like Carroll, she called for developing the agriculture industry and reining in government. But Tupola is best known for her can-do activism, exemplified by a willingness to jump in and direct traffic when the streets flood in Waianae or rally parents to paint the locker room at the middle school in Nanakuli. And she carried that message onto the campaign trail.
L’Heureux, a former Marine colonel and assistant superintendent with the Hawaii Department of Education, never gained much traction in the race.
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