Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Race of the Day- Hawai'i U.S. Senate

84 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Incumbent
2012 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Safe Democrat

For 50 years, Democrat Daniel Inouye served the Aloha State in the United States Senate. When he died in December of 2012, he was the President Pro Tempore, and was the heartbeats away from the Presidency. His passing certainly left a huge void in the state he had represented in Congress since it first became a state in the 1950s.

With his passing, Neil Abercrombie, the Democrat Governor was tasked with selecting a replacement. That person would have to face the voters in a 2014 special election before they would be running again in 2016 for a full six-year term, which is what Inouye was saying he had planned to do. Since Hawai'i depends so much on the seniority system in Congress, it was unlikely that Abercrombie would merely appoint a caretaker to the seat. He would choose someone whom he hoped would hold the seat for decades.

Inouye had his own idea as to whom he wanted to succeed him as he faced his own impending death. In his final days, before it was publicly known how serious his condition was, he wrote a letter to Abercrombie requesting that he choose Congresswoman Colleen Hanabusa to replace him in the Senate. Nonetheless, Abercrombie made up his own mind and nominated Brian Schatz, who was serving as his Lt. Governor. At 40 years old, Schatz was nearly a decade younger than Hanabusa. While she was a  relatively new member of Congress, Abercrombie cited her seniority in Congress as a reason to keep her in the House. Schatz immediately was in line to become the state's senior Senator, as the other Senator from Hawai'i was retiring and the woman who won that race (the first ever Asian-American female in the Senate) was not to be sworn in until January.

Schatz would also be the first white Senator from Hawai'i since the very first days of statehood. Many in both parties wondered why a white Governor would take the step of appointing a white male to the Senate, in a state that is majority Asian-Pacific Islander and would have so many qualified minorities who could have joined the already overwhelmingly white U.S. Senate. For what it is worth, the Japanese-American Hanabusa is married to a white man and the Jewish-American Schatz is married to an Asian-American woman.

Picking Schatz over Hanubusa was applauded as a move of independence by some liberal activists across the country and apparently was acceptable to the Obama White House. The very powerful Democrat Old Guard establishment in Hawai'i, as well as the Inouye Family felt very insulted. Both Abercrombie and Schatz were put in their political crosshairs. As of today, Schatz may very well have survived but his former boss Abercombie was not so lucky. As I wrote about yesterday, he was ousted in a primary this past Saturday by a landslide margin.

Abercrombie had wanted Hanubusa to remain in the House district that he himself had held for many years, but she decided that she would run for the job that many felt she was entitled too and ran to oppose Schatz in the Democrat primary. In hindsight, she probably should have run instead against Abercrombie, as she would have been in a good position to defeat him.

For months now, the Schatz vs. Hanabusa primary was tight and somewhat mysterious, as polling is not considered to be all that reliable in the state. Headed into Saturday's vote, it looked like either candidate could win, as both touted powerful endorsements. Barack Obama, a former Hawai'i resident, endorsed incumbents Abercrombie and Schatz. There is no indication if any of the other surviving alums of the Choom Gang made public endorsements. Abercrombie of course lost, and the endorsement from the White House did not have the effect of icing the race for Schatz. However, the new Senator, maintained the backing of many liberal organizations and effectively distanced himself enough from the increasingly unpopular Abercrombie to give himself a real chance at victory.

Days before the primary, Tropical Storm Iselle did damage to Hawai'i and two precincts on the Big Island would not be able to vote on Saturday. Since the race was expected to be very tight, there was much speculation as to how it would ultimately be resolved. The state apparently announced a chunk of votes at set times throughout the evening, and the second to final announcement had Hanabusa ahead by 11 votes. The final announcement though put the incumbent back into the lead by 1,635 votes. That put Schatz in the drivers seat as Hanabusa has some ground to make up in those final two precincts, although it is certainly doable. My assumption is that Schatz will slightly extend his lead after all the votes are cast. However, Hanabusa seems prepared to contest this for quite some time. The plan now is for polls in those two precincts to be open all day Friday, although there are also mail-in ballots arriving. She is complaining that the system is unfair to those who are still trying to recover to damage done by the storm. There is unity among Hawai'i Democrats now in regards to the race for Governor (not counting the third party effort by a prominent Democrat underway), but it could be quite some time before all sides get on the same page in the Senate race.

Meanwhile, the somewhat irrelevant GOP primary was easily taken on Saturday by Cam Cavasso, a businessman who served in the Hawai'i Legislature in the 1980s and has lot some elections since, including stints as the sacrificial lamb in Inouye's last two Senate reelections. Some thought Republicans could take advantage of the Democrat discord in Hawai'i this year, but two of the few big names in the party decided to try a rematch for Governor or an attempt to win Hanabusa's now open U.S. House seat, which is slightly less Democrat than the state as a whole. The other major player, former Governor Linda Lingle, had solidly lost an open U.S. Senate race in 2012 so she decided not to try again. With Republican virtually ceding the Senate contest to focus on other key races in the state, the nomination was there for Cavasso who is running under the slogan of "A Steersman for Hawaii." Apparently, he is some kind of rower. I wonder why he does not spell the name of the state the official way with the apostrophe between the two i's.

Anyway, Hawai'i is so overwhelmingly Democrat, that whomever ultimately emerges from the bitter primary and counting will easily win this Special Election and will return to Washington. I did read something today which suggested that whomever loses the primary, most likely Hanabusa, could run in November as a third party candidate of some sort. That could certainly complicate things, but I have not seen anything else to suggest it is a real possibility.

Cavasso campaign link:


Senate races predicted thus far: 3 D (2 Safe, 1 Tossup), 4 R (1 Safe, 2 Leans, 1 Tossup)
Overall predicted thus far: 37 D, 34 R (net Republican gain of 2)


Post a Comment

<< Home