State Sen. Kai Kahele is well on his way to becoming Hawaii’s next congressman.

Kahele, who’s running for Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, was far and away the frontrunner in Saturday’s mail-in primary, leading all other Democrats with 65.9% of the vote, according to results released by the State Elections Office Sunday morning.

The next closest challenger was Brian Evans who had 8.1%.

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele poses for a photo during a fundraiser in Washington, D.C. Nick Grube/Civil Beat

Kahele said it was important to give credit to the record turnout across the state, something that he said made him very proud of Hawaii.

On a personal level, the Democratic nominee said he was “deeply grateful” to move on to the general election.

“I take this honor very seriously, and the plan for the next three months is to continue to listen to the people of this district,” he said.

Kahele said it was never his plan to be in politics at this stage in his life, and said it was hard to imagine how much his life had changed since his father, Gil Kahele, passed away a little over four years ago. Kai Kahele would be appointed to his late father’s seat.

Incumbent U.S. Rep. Ed Case also will move on to the Nov. 3 general election in the race to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, which encompasses urban Oahu.

Case, who is seeking a second term, did not face a Democratic challenger in Saturday’s primary — he had 85.9% of the vote after early returns — and, like Kahele, is likely to beat his Republican challenger in November due to Democrats’ long-standing stranglehold on electoral politics in the islands.

Case said he was overjoyed at the high voter turnout via mail-in voting and noted that many of the races statewide were competitive.

“I think that was a major victory for the process tonight, a lot of it prompted by the COVID-19 crisis and people being angry at their government,” he said. “I think that when things are good, then government is not held to account. But when things are like they are today, people definitely want to weigh in on their current leaders and make choices on who they want to take things forward in a crisis.”

Ron Curtis was leading the five-person Republican field with 34.1% of the vote. Several third-party candidates are also in both the CD1 and CD2 races this fall.

Sizable War Chest

Kahele, who’s a Hawaiian Airlines pilot and lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Air National Guard, announced his bid in January 2019, just one week after Rep. Tulsi Gabbard said she was running for president.

Early on, he secured the endorsements of three former governors — John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie — and promised voters that he would dedicate his time in Washington to his Hawaii constituents rather than his own political ambitions.

By the time Gabbard announced in October 2019 that she would not seek reelection, Kahele’s campaign already had a sizable war chest. He continued to lock up major endorsements both in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., in the following months.

Once COVID-19 began its deadly spread across the globe — effectively shutting down door-to-door campaigning — Kahele had already cemented himself as Gabbard’s most likely successor.

Should he win in November, Kahele will be the first Native Hawaiian to serve in Congress since U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka retired in 2012 and only the second Hawaiian since statehood.

Congressman Ed Case FAA Whistleblower Helicopters Press Conference
Rep. Ed Case is running for reelection to represent Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District. Kuʻu Kauanoe/Civil Beat/2020

Case’s primary win is anticipated in part because he’s an incumbent, which gives him tremendous advantage.

Case beat out a crowded field in the 2018 Democratic primary after then-U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa decided to run for governor.

He had previously represented Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District from November 2002 to January 2007. After winning the general election in 2018, he returned to Washington as a member of one of the most diverse freshman classes in U.S. history.

Case used his seniority and connections to secure a seat on the coveted House Appropriations Committee, where he works to funnel federal dollars back to Hawaii.

He also avoided controversy back home in part by toeing the Democratic line on issues ranging from police reform and the need to take dark money out of politics, to the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

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