Updated 7:45 a.m. Aug. 8

Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano has a real chance to exceed 50 percent in Saturday’s primary and become Honolulu’s 14th mayor. It would be only the second time in the last 16 years that the mayor would be elected without the need for a runoff.

With many early ballots already cast and some voters still undecided, Cayetano’s support last week sat at 51 percent, according to The Civil Beat Poll. The survey of 1,098 likely primary voters was conducted between July 31 and Aug. 2.1 The poll’s margin of error is +/- 3.0 percent. Cayetano is so close to 50 percent we might not know if he’s hit his mark until late Saturday night.

That Cayetano, who was admitted to the hospital Sunday due to a bleeding ulcer, is the heavy favorite to finish first in the three-man mayoral race is nothing new. Whether he’ll avoid a runoff is still unanswered. That leaves one other key question to address: If Cayetano fails to hit 50 percent, who will he face in November?

The Civil Beat Poll shows former acting mayor Kirk Caldwell has opened a narrow lead over incumbent Mayor Peter Carlisle, 24 percent to 19 percent. The edge is slightly narrower among the 29 percent of likely voters who said they’d already voted than among the 70 percent who said they definitely plan to vote.

That battle for second place will be meaningless if Cayetano manages to top the 50-percent-plus-one-vote target he’s made a central focus of his campaign so far. He even had campaign buttons produced with “You + 50%” as the motto.

Tough Row To Hoe

The runoff in November could be a tough one for Cayetano for a number of reasons.

Either Caldwell or Carlisle — not Cayetano — is likely to secure the other’s supporters, the poll shows.

The Civil Beat Poll asked supporters of each of the three candidates to identify their second choice.

  • Of Carlisle’s supporters, 70 percent said they’d pick Caldwell versus only 7 percent who chose Cayetano. Nineteen percent said they wouldn’t vote for either.
  • Of Caldwell’s supporters, 66 percent said their second choice would be Carlisle versus only 12 percent who would pick Cayetano in that matchup. Fifteen percent said they wouldn’t vote.
  • Cayetano’s supporters were split evenly between Carlisle and Caldwell, 24 percent and 23 percent. Forty-seven percent said they’d sit out an election between those two.

The nearly three-month gap between the primary and general election — in 2010, it was only six weeks — gives either Caldwell or Carlisle even more time to consolidate support.

Adding to Cayetano’s runoff hurdles is that Hawaii-born President Barack Obama will be at the top of the ballot, drawing Democrats to the polls. Though Cayetano was a two-term governor as a Democrat, a wave of Obama supporters is bad news for him, particularly if he’s facing Caldwell, the poll suggests.

Of those who approve of Obama’s job performance as president, 42 percent back Cayetano versus 32 percent for Caldwell and 21 percent for Carlisle. Of those who disapprove of Obama, 70 percent back Cayetano versus 17 percent for Carlisle and 9 percent for Caldwell.

Also above the mayoral race on the ballot in November will be the U.S. Senate race between presumptive Republican nominee Linda Lingle and either Mazie Hirono or Ed Case for the Democrats. Lingle succeeded Cayetano as Hawaii governor after beating his lieutenant governor, Hirono, in 2002. Last month, Cayetano gave $500 to Case.

UPDATED Lingle’s presence could actually help Cayetano, since he does well with Republicans. Voters who identify themselves as Republicans back Cayetano at a 62 percent clip versus 22 percent for Carlisle, a former member of the GOP, and 12 percent for Caldwell.2

‘Shooting The Works’

Cayetano’s pulling out all the stops in his efforts to avoid a runoff. Last week, Cayetano said he planned to blow through much of his campaign war chest before the primary.

“We’re shooting the works because we know that the general would be a tough race,” he told Civil Beat.

As of July 27, Cayetano had raised $951,000 since the campaign began, compared to $875,000 for Caldwell and $662,000 for Carlisle. But the fundraising advantage is starting to dip and could swing against Cayetano in a runoff because so many of his main supporters maxed out their contributions at $4,000 apiece and can’t give him any more money.

Despite the risks, Cayetano is aiming for victory now.

“No one has ever done it, at least when we look into the history of Hawaii politics here,” Cayetano said of avoiding a runoff. “It’d be nice if we were the first to do it, but if we don’t we’ll run a good campaign in the general.”

Cayetano was mistaken; Mayor Jeremy Harris won re-election in 2000 by securing 50.7 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff against second-place finisher Mufi Hannemann.

A look at recent history shows most — but not all — first-place primary finishers go on to win the mayorship.

  • 1992: The last year when the mayor’s race was partisan and the primary election served as the parties’ opportunities to nominate their preferred candidates.
  • 1996: Harris gets 47.4 percent of the vote in the primary to 28.1 percent for Arnold Morgado and 19.4 percent for Frank Fasi. Harris then beats Morgado in the general election, 56 percent to 42 percent.
  • 2000: Harris narrowly eclipses 50 percent in the primary to avoid a general election runoff.
  • 2004: Duke Bainum tops Hannemann 45.5 percent to 42.3 percent in the primary election, with Fasi taking 9.6 percent. Six weeks later, Hannemann edges Bainum in the runoff, 49.3 percent to 48.8 percent, to become mayor.
  • 2008: Hannemann secures 48.1 percent in the primary to 29.4 percent for Ann Kobayashi and 17.2 percent for Panos Prevedouros. Hannemann then beats Kobayashi in the general election, 56 percent to 41 percent.

Rail and Other Factors

Rail remains the defining issue in the race.

The Civil Beat Poll found that 55 percent of likely primary voters oppose the project versus 39 percent who support it. Those who oppose rail overwhelmingly back Cayetano’s candidacy — 85 percent versus 6 percent for Caldwell and 4 percent for Carlisle. Those who support rail are far less likely to support Cayetano — only 7 percent versus 48 percent for Caldwell and 41 percent for Carlisle.

Some voters said other criteria — advertisements, news reports and debates — were important as they made up their mind. But how they interpreted those inputs had little effect on who they they support in the mayor’s race.

The exception were those who said endorsements provided “a lot” of valuable information as they made decisions across all political races this year. Among those voters, Cayetano only narrowly led Caldwell, 41-35, with Carlisle at 18 percent.

Those in union households were also more likely to back the heavily-endorsed Caldwell (32 percent) than those who don’t have union members in their families (22 percent).

Analysis of the demographics and decision timing offers a glimpse at how Caldwell or Carlisle could force a runoff:

  • Of those who chose their mayoral candidate more than a month before the survey, 58 percent chose Cayetano versus 23 percent for Caldwell and 19 percent for Carlisle. Of those who decided between two weeks and one month before the survey, the split was 50-29-20. And of those who made up their minds in the two weeks leading up to the survey, it was 45-30-25. Of those who said they’d already voted in the first few days of early voting, Cayetano hit 50 percent right on the nose. Is he trending downward? Does his hospitalization take him off the campaign trail for days and hurt his chances?
  • Civil Beat’s survey sample has 80 percent age 50 or older. Cayetano does worst among younger voters, with 46 percent of those in their 30s and 33 percent of those between 18 and 29 years old. If more young voters turn out than have historically, it would spell trouble for him. The recent Hawaii Poll sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser had only 48 percent of voters aged 55 or older, and found Cayetano’s overall support at 44 percent.
  • Caucasians, who represent 37 percent of the Honolulu sample, were most likely to support Cayetano (56 percent). Japanese-ancestry
    voters, 22 percent of the sample, were most likely to support Caldwell (34 percent). A higher turnout of Japanese- or Chinese-ancestry voters would bode well for Caldwell. More whites, Filipinos and Hawaiians would help Cayetano.

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