In a state dominated by Democrats, Hawaii has only elected two Republicans to the governor’s office since statehood in 1959.

But 10 GOP candidates are running for that privilege in 2022, and familiarity with some of them appears to be the biggest factor in determining who people will vote for.

In a new Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll, more people are unsure of who they’d choose in the GOP gubernatorial primary next month — 29% — than are focused on a particular candidate.

But Duke Aiona, a former lieutenant governor who ran twice unsuccessfully for the top job, has a slight edge on BJ Penn, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship winner, 27% to 24%.

A total of 269 likely GOP primary voters responded to the survey, which has a margin of error of 6 percentage points. That means the race between Aiona and Penn is up for grabs.

Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi trails the two leaders in the race at 9%, as does businessman Gary Cordery at 7%.

Lynn Barry Mariano, a retired military veteran, and Paul Morgan, a business consultant and a former Hawaii Army National Guard member, registered low single digits in the poll.

“It appears to be a tight race between the two front-runners, and there are a lot of undecideds still to win over,” said Seth Rosenthal, a survey consultant with MRG Research, which conducted the poll. “The other candidates have a name-recognition gap to make up.”

Aiona does better with voters 50 years of age and older, Penn better with voters 49 and under. Aiona does best on Maui and Penn on Kauai.

Tsuneyoshi has the support of many Japanese American voters.

Civil Beat spoke with a number of people who took the survey about why they are voting for a particular candidate.

Political Balance

Garrett Uyesugi, 54, a business owner in Waikapu on Maui, supports Aiona because he wants balance in office.

“In general, the same party gets elected in Hawaii,” he said. “I want to see another party pushing back so we can hopefully improve as a state. Better things happen if two parties are struggling, but both are strong and trying to do something for Hawaii.”

A retiree living in Maunawili on Oahu named Francis Ritchey, 76, supports Cordery for the same reason.

“Basically, it’s because he’s not a Democrat or a liberal — he’s a conservative,” he said. “But since then, I saw that Duke Aiona is also running. And that’d be tight. That’d be a toss up.”

“I just like how they present themselves and what they say,” he said.

But Jeff Post, 38, from Palolo on Oahu, favors Penn because he supports local agriculture.

“I work in the agriculture industry, and I fly pretty much everything in,” he said. “We’ve had a hard time switching from commercial to agriculture. But it’s something (Penn) feels is a really important thing, since we don’t grow much food here.”

Post hopes that Penn would ease the transition of commercial land into agricultural land or divert government funding in support of the local agriculture industry.

‘Something Different’

Taylor Kaawa, 50, who is from Salt Lake on Oahu and works in the labor industry, supports Tsuneyoshi for her personality and political standing.

“She is just something different, someone different,” he said.

Kailua resident Andrea Walker, 54, respects the work Tsuneyoshi has done as a council member.

“There’s a lot of corruption in our government, and she’s been very vocal about it, about how people are acting, and what should be done — and I appreciate that,” she said.

“If we can get some good people in office like Tsuneyoshi and some of the other candidates that are running, then we might have an opportunity to keep Hawaii ‘Hawaii’ and not turn it over to the corrupt Democrats,” she said.

“We just need people that are going to be honest and not ‘Here, let me give you $5,000 or $10,000 and put it in your pocket, and then you’re mine,’” added Walker, who is a financier.

Other Candidates

Four other Republicans — George Hawat, Keline Kahau, Moses Paskowitz and Walter Woods — are also seeking the gubernatorial nomination.

Voters in Hawaii’s primary do not have to be registered with a party to vote for its candidates, but they may only select one party’s ballot.

The poll, taken June 28-30, surveyed 1,120 registered voters. The full poll’s margin of error is 3 percentage points.

Civil Beat conducted its poll with MRG Research using a combination of interactive voice response technology (touch-tone polling) and a survey administered online.

Both the touch-tone and online version of the poll were conducted using a random, probability-based sampling of registered voters in Hawaii.

The touch-tone version was conducted by contacting landline telephones. The online version was conducted by texting cellphones and linking poll participants to an online survey optimized for smartphones.

Coming Thursday: Polling the top Democrats running for lieutenant governor.

Read other poll stories here.

Read the full results of Civil Beat/Hawaii News Now poll on the Republican governor’s race here:

An Important Note

If you consider nonprofit, independent news to be an essential service that helps keep our community informed, please include Civil Beat among your year-end contributions.

And for those who can, consider supporting us with a monthly gift, which helps keep our content free for those who need it most.

This year, we are making it our goal to raise $225,000 in reader support by December 31, to support our news coverage statewide and throughout the Pacific. Are you ready to help us continue this work?

About the Authors