Earlier this year, before the primary, I wrote an Ad Watch on Keith Amemiya identifying himself as a Democrat, even though contests for Honolulu mayor are nonpartisan.

“Smart politics,” I said at the time, in a nod to the reality that there is really only one political party in Hawaii of stature. He played the party card.

Now Amemiya, in a Nov. 3 runoff with Rick Blangiardi, is playing two more cards — the local card and the Trump card (pun partially intended.)

A new television ad which began airing Sept. 15 titled “Keith has plans!” opens with the candidate firing up a barbecue.

Donald Trump on that escalator in 2015, in a Keith Amemiya TV commercial out this month. Screenshot/2020

“My opponent and I — we just have different values,” says Amemiya. “Protecting the vulnerable during this pandemic is my highest priority. And I don’t think we should criminalize homelessness.”

Amemiya does not actually mention any plans in this 30-second spot, but he raises a good point: Blangiardi has not mapped out many specific solutions for Oahu’s myriad challenges, while Amemiya has been beefing up his positions. That’s smart politics, too.

What is to be debated, though, is Amemiya’s invocation of the word “values,” a loaded term both at the national and local level.

Locally, when a campaign uses the word values, it usually is accompanied by the word local — “local values.” While those values are rarely delineated, they are often code words for the values of local people — implying that people who are not from Hawaii and are often haole don’t hold the same values.

Amemiya’s ad never mentions Blangiardi by name, but he does say this: “A media mogul with no plans, saying he’ll just hire the right people, and that running government is easy — we’ve seen it before.”

The ad cuts to video of Donald Trump riding his escalator to history in 2015, when he denounced Mexicans and announced he was running for president.

“As Mayor I’ll make the changes we need without losing the values that make us special,” Amemiya closes, using another loaded word often used to describe Hawaii: special.

Watch the ad:

Message: Blangiardi is Trump, even though it’s a reach to call either man a media mogul.

As Hawaii News Now reported Friday, it’s not the first time Amemiya has linked his opponent to Trump, who is unpopular in the islands, according to polls.

Never mind that Blangiardi is supported by a former Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano, and a former Democratic congresswoman, Colleen Hanabusa.

And, sure, Blangiardi also appears to have the support of former GOP governor Linda Lingle. She was in attendance when Blangiardi announced his campaign.

But is Blangiardi Trump? It’s an outlandish claim.

Still, given that Blangiardi took just 25% of the primary vote and Amemiya took 20%, there are an awful lot of voters to be persuaded.

The Amemiya campaign has a second ad running, titled “We can change Oahu.” A narrator says that the candidate has over 30 labor union endorsements and the backing of the Democratic Party of Hawaii.

“We can change our city without losing the values that make us special,” the 30-second clip concludes after listing climate change, homelessness, police reform, women’s rights and human rights as priorities.

Watch the ad:

Amemiya began his campaign for mayor as a fresh, first-time candidate with a background in law, insurance and high school sports. He is ending it as the chosen favorite of the status quo, the target of a super PAC and a candidate on the attack.

Blangiardi has a new TV spot up, too, titled “Now more than ever.”

It’s nearly identical to most of the ads the former television executive has been running this year: Just Blangiardi, in a sharp aloha shirt, staring soberly at the camera and talking straight.

“Strong leadership, clear communication and the ability to make tough decisions will be key for our next Mayor,” he says, repeating talking points from before the primary.

It’s nothing memorable, far less so than Amemiya’s new spots. But it is consistent, and it is branding.

But will voters prefer the I-am-a-strong-leader approach to the I-am-a-Democrat-who-shares-your-values mantra in a general election where the main event is a referendum on a man named Trump? In a close election it could make a difference.

Amemiya Outspends Blangiardi

According to the latest filings with the Federal Election Commission, Amemiya has spent more than $77,000 to run television ads during the month of September.

That’s compared to the $43,000 or so that Blangiardi has spent, at least as of Tuesday.

Blangiardi is also — for now — only buying airtime on KGMB and sister station KHNL, mainly during NFL games and news.

Amemiya, by contrast, is on four commercial stations: KGMB (“Face the Nation,” “Entertainment Tonight,” local news), KHNL (“Meet the Press,” “Modern Family,” local news), KHON (“Wheel of Fortune, “Inside Edition,” local news) and KITV (“Good Morning America,” “The View,” “Jimmy Kimmel”).

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