One of the top three Democrats seeking to win the primary election for Hawaii governor this August is no longer in the running.

In a press release issued Wednesday Kirk Caldwell said he decided to withdraw from the campaign.

“After keeping a close watch on how the campaign was evolving, my gut, my manao, was telling me this was not my time to seek the governorship,” he said.

Caldwell, a former mayor of Honolulu and a state House representative, said the primary reasons for leaving the contest were a lack of funding and momentum.

Updated figures are not yet available but Lt. Gov. Josh Green led early in campaign fundraising for the governor’s race.

Green, who has also led in recent polls, is backed by many labor unions, which are considered essential to Democratic campaigns.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell asks people to not gather in groups of more than five and celebtrate Halloween in their homes. October 28, 2020
Former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell has dropped out of the race for Hawaii governor. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Caldwell’s departure leaves Green and Vicky Cayetano, a longtime Honolulu businesswoman and the former first lady, in the running.

U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele is reported to be considering entering the governor’s race as well and was expected to make an announcement this weekend.

The filing deadline for the Aug. 13 primary is June 7. As of Friday, about two dozen people had pulled papers to run for Hawaii’s top office including several other Democrats, Republicans, third party and nonpartisan candidates. But few had formally filed.

Caldwell’s campaign was considered a long shot because of problems that arose during his tenure as mayor, which concluded in January 2021. It coincided with the Honolulu rail project — something Caldwell still supports — that continues to post cost overruns and delays and tough decisions during the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic.

“I think obviously he had to bear the burden and public perception of both rail and Covid-19,” said John Hart, professor of communication at Hawaii Pacific University. “And I don’t think he was ever able to overcome that. It’s a hard job to be the mayor, and if you look back in our history I can’t think of any Honolulu mayor that was elected governor, including the legendary Frank Fasi.”

Three former high-level city officials from Caldwell’s administration are facing federal conspiracy charges after they allegedly misused city money to give a $250,000 payout to a former police chief Louis Kealoha.

Aware of the criticism of his candidacy, Caldwell took it head on in newspaper advertisements that ran in March.

“Why I’m running for Governor,” the ad stated in large letters. “Even if some don’t think I can win.”

The Caldwell campaign believed that the candidate’s eight years as Honolulu’s chief executive was a great preparation to be governor.

But on Wednesday Caldwell conceded, “This is not my time,” adding that he wanted to give his supporters enough time to consider who they will now vote for.

Caldwell, 69, did not say what his plans are now but said in the statement that he stands ready “to serve the people of Hawaii in the future.”

Help power our public service journalism

As a local newsroom, Civil Beat has a unique public service role in times of crisis.

That’s why we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content, so we can get vital information out to everyone, from all communities.

We are deploying a significant amount of our resources to covering the Maui fires, and your support ensures that we can pivot when these types of emergencies arise.

Make a gift to Civil Beat today and help power our nonprofit newsroom.

About the Author