WASHINGTON — State Sen. Kai Kahele’s congressional campaign announced Monday that he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of the year in his bid to unseat U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who’s running for president but could also simultaneously seek re-election.

Kahele said the money came from 3,231 donors, which averages just over $77 per contribution.

The press release didn’t include any details about who has donated to Kahele’s campaign or what he has spent.

Sen Chair Kai Kahele asks State Auditor Les Kondo about a possible Mauna Kea/TMT audit.
State Sen. Kai Kahele, who plans to run for Congress next year, says he raised more than $250,000 in the first quarter of 2019. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

The last day of the fundraising quarter was March 31 and Federal Election Commission rules give candidates until April 15 to file their paperwork.

Kahele could not be reached for comment Monday, but in his press release he said he expects his campaign to develop into one of the largest grassroots fundraising efforts in the state as he seeks the 2nd Congressional District seat covering rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.

“I look forward to continuing my travels across the district and hearing directly from the people on what their concerns are and how I can best represent them in Washington, D.C.,” Kahele said. “If elected, being their voice in Congress will be my sole focus and number one priority.”

The 41-year-old Kahele will likely need all the money he can get if he has any hope of unseating Gabbard, who consistently polls as one of the state’s most popular politicians.

Kahele, a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and member of the Hawaii Air National Guard, has already received significant backing from several of Hawaii’s former governors, including John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie.

All three serve as honorary co-chairs of his campaign committee.

Gabbard, meanwhile, is engaged in her long-shot presidential campaign.

Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard speaks during the 2018 Hawaii Democratic Convention held at the Hilton Waikaloa in Kona, Hawaii.
U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is running for president, but she could also run for re-election to Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

She has not released any details about how much money she’s raised.

Gabbard has been focusing on meeting the 65,000-donor threshold the Democratic National Committee said is necessary to qualify for the presidential debate stage of the primary campaign.

A campaign email sent out Monday said she was 653 donors away from hitting that mark.

Kahele’s reported haul compares favorably to Gabbard’s previous election cycle numbers when she wasn’t a presidential candidate.

For example in the first quarter of 2017, FEC records show Gabbard raised nearly $167,000. Over the course of the last two-year cycle she raised a total of about $1.4 million.

Gabbard’s fundraising haul came in a year in which she didn’t face a significant challenge to her re-election. In fact, she has largely coasted ever since she was elected to Congress in 2012.

Still, she has been able to build a large base of donors from around the country. When she kicked off her presidential campaign, she had about $2 million in her account.

Erika Tsuji, a spokeswoman for Gabbard’s campaign, did not respond to Civil Beat’s request for comment about Kahele’s announcement.

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