4 Hawaii Political Races to Watch in 2014

Photo: Odeelo Dayondon

Campaign 2014 is still taking shape, but a few hotly contested races are already lighting up our radar. Voters head to the polls this August to decide primary races for governor, U.S. Senate, U.S. House and local legislative races. Here are some races we’re watching leading up to the primary and general elections. There will be more, so check back regularly.

U.S. Senate: Brian Schatz vs. Colleen Hanabusa

Brian Schatz.
Colleen Hanabusa.

By far, this is the marquee event in Hawaii’s Democratic primary. The late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye looms large in this race, even from the grave. He chose as his successor U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is 62 and the former president of the state Senate. Gov. Neil Abercrombie, faced with the choice of three Democrats, chose his own lieutenant governor, a move seen by Inouye loyalists as rejecting the senator’s dying wish. Now Hanabusa is challenging U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who is 41 and a former state lawmaker. By all accounts, this race is seen as a toss up that will split the party.
Now enjoying the benefits of incumbency, Schatz has a full campaign coffer and endorsements from President Obama, former Vice President Al Gore and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Hanabusa trails in the money race, but several recent polls show her even with, or leading, Schatz. The race has garnered national attention with the Washington Post calling it the “best primary in the country.”


Governor: Neil Abercrombie vs. David Ige

Neil Abercrombie.
David Ige.

After a gaffe-prone first couple of years, Gov. Neil Abercrombie finds himself in a primary challenge against a low-key lesser-known state senator. Early polls reflect widespread discontent with Abercrombie’s first term, and even some of his previous supporters, such as state Rep. Lyla Berg, have defected. That means state Sen. David Ige, known mostly as the head of the powerful Ways and Means Committee that controls the money, could have a chance. Ige has already gained the endorsement of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and two former governors.

Looking beyond the primary election, Abercrombie could potentially face a rematch against former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona. His first race against Aiona was a blowout, but early polls show Abercrombie trailing by as much as eight points.


First U.S. Congressional District

Donna Mercado Kim.
Charles Djou.

Several candidates are officially—and unofficially— clamoring to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is vacating her seat to run for the Senate. Among the Democrats, state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim leads the pack, according to early polling, but she faces a widening field of announced candidates, including state Rep. K. Mark Takai, state Sen. Will Espero, Honolulu Councilmen Ikaika Anderson and Stanley Chang, and human rights activist Kathryn Xian.

Whoever makes it out of the Democratic primary is likely to face Republican Charles Djou, who held the seat from 2010 to 2011.

State House: District 4, Puna

Faye Hanohano.

State Rep. Faye Hanohano is looking at a wide field of primary challenges after her recent troubles over racially charged exchanges. Hanohano received a formal reprimand from state House Speaker Joe Souki, which included a threat to strip her of her committee assignments should she offend again. Her challengers are lining up—in fact, four candidates have filed to run in this race, the most of any state office. Three additional people have pulled papers, which indicates they are considering running but have not yet committed.