Dems in Disarray: Hawaii governor ousted in primary

posted at 11:01 am on August 10, 2014 by Noah Rothman

It’s only a matter of time before the political press picks up on this episode as part of a narrative about the larger Democratic Civil War… right?

On Saturday night, The Aloha State’s Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie lost the battle for his party’s gubernatorial nomination to state Sen. David Ige. Badly. With 99 percent of precincts reporting as of this writing, Igy won 67.4 percent of Democratic primary vote compared to just 31.5 percent for Abercrombie.

The governor’s loss was not unexpected as public opinion surveys in even this difficult to poll state had unmistakably shown for several weeks that Abercrombie was likely to lose this race, but this is still the first time in the state’s history that a sitting governor has been ousted in a primary after serving just one term. Local factors rather than national politics or even the Abercrombie brand were more to blame for this Democratic revolt.

Indicative of the uniqueness of the gubernatorial primary, Sen. Brian Schatz Abercrombie’s appointed replacement for the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (against the late senator’s wishes), may have narrowly survived a primary challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. “With 99 percent of precincts reporting, Schatz had 49.4 percent of the vote, while Hanabusa had tallied 48.6 percent of the vote,” Fox News reported. “The two were separated by fewer than 2,000 votes out of more than 210,000 ballots cast.”

AP reported that the state’s primary was held under unique circumstances which could force a review of the results:

Tropical Storm Iselle, which pounded parts of the state earlier this week, also delivered a bizarre twist to Hawaii’s election, leaving the heated contest between incumbent Democratic incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa too close to declare a winner.

In an unprecedented move, elections officials postponed voting in two precincts in the remote Puna region of the Big Island, deciding that damaged roads would make it unsafe for voters to get to the polls. With Schatz holding only a narrow lead over Hanabusa, both candidates will have to wait for the results from mail-in ballots that will be sent to as many as 8,255 registered voters there, then returned and tabulated.

None of these factors seemed to matter much for the gubernatorial contest and, in a year in which every sitting Republican senator was endorsed by their state’s primary voters, one wonders if the press will use this opportunity to examine the surging currents beneath what outwardly appears to be the Democratic Party’s placid façade.

“Both races divided the state’s dominant Democratic Party and offered voters a choice between the political establishment and a new generation of leaders,” the AP report noted. Just how establishment, you ask?

“Campaign officials for Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie say President Barack Obama is endorsing Abercrombie’s bid for re-election next year,” another AP dispatch read. “The campaign said on its website Friday that Obama is backing Abercrombie because of his handling of state finances and approach to making tough choices.”

While a bit more media scrutiny of the dissatisfaction of the Democratic grassroots which will become clear in 2016 would be welcome, it would be a bit dishonest to suggest that Abercrombie’s primary loss is suggestive of any larger trend affecting the Democratic Party. That hasn’t stopped the press, however, from analyzing every statewide contest involving the GOP this year within the prism of tea party vs. establishment politics when it was also primarily local factors which pushed incumbent Republican senators across the finish line this year.


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