Election Hawaii style. Colorful flower leis, Hawaiian Music, a cheering crowd of supporters and a smiling Abercombie family- this was the atmosphere at the party at Neil Abercombie’s headquarter in Honolulu last night.
Former U.S. Rep Neil Abercrombie convincingly won the Democratic nomination for Hawaii governor and will face Republican Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona in an attempt to regain leadership of President Barack Obama’s birth state.
Abercrombie defeated former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann with 60 percent of the vote Saturday and immediately launched his general election campaign to oust Republicans from the governor’s office after eight years. Term limits prevented Gov. Linda Lingle from seeking re-election.
The 72-year-old Abercrombie, a former Vietnam War protester and Obama supporter, will take on 55-year-old Aiona, a conservative who previously served as a family court judge and championed anti-drug programs.
Aiona coasted to win his party’s nomination with 95 percent of the vote against his lone challenger, Honolulu lawyer John Carroll.
Besides the governor’s race, Hawaii Democrats also are looking to retake the congressional seat that Abercrombie left after 19 years.
Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who won a May special election for Congress, and Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa handily won their parties’ nominations and will face each other in the general election.
Abercrombie, a friend of Obama’s father from their days at the University of Hawaii, invoked the president’s message of change throughout his campaign, calling for “A New Day in Hawaii.”
“A new wave of hope and change is coming to Hawaii, and it starts tonight,” Abercrombie said in his victory speech. “This is about the people of Hawaii and a new vision for Hawaii’s future.”
Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, compared the loud cheers at Abercrombie’s party to what she heard two years ago. Hawaii’s support for Obama was greater than any other state, giving him 72 percent of the presidential vote.
“The party hasn’t been this wild since my brother’s election,” she said in her introduction of Abercrombie.
Abercrombie and Hannemann waged a spirited primary that may have turned on a flier Hannemann sent voters that compared the candidates’ birthplaces, the universities they attended and their wife’s ethnicities.
They first faced off in 1986 in a congressional primary, won by Hannemann, in which he attacked Abercrombie for being soft on drugs and claimed that he “enjoyed marijuana.” Abercrombie said those assertions were untrue; Hannemann later lost the general election.
The gubernatorial race between Abercrombie and Aiona could be tight even in a state that has long been a Democratic bastion.
Aiona said he was confident in his campaign’s ability to win.
“Let’s just work as hard as we can with much aloha. Remember this: Hawaii is special, Hawaii is unique, Hawaii is all about aloha,” Aiona said. “If we talk about the substance of our campaign, nobody, and I mean nobody, will beat us.”
Aiona has served eight years as lieutenant governor, a post that holds little power and few responsibilities. He has been a loyal deputy to Lingle, who in 2002 became the first Republican to be elected governor in four decades.
But in the last two years, the state’s tourism-driven economy and government services have suffered, leading to voter discontent against current officeholders such as Aiona.
Aiona or his allies are virtually certain to try to paint Abercrombie as a liberal and a big spender and assert that Hawaii needs a GOP governor to balance a state Legislature that remains firmly in Democratic hands.
The lieutenant governor also may focus attention on same-sex civil unions, the subject of controversial state legislation earlier this year that he strongly opposes and Abercrombie just as strongly supports. The civil unions measure passed the Legislature but was vetoed by Lingle.
Abercrombie is likely to move quickly to wrest away some of Hannemann’s supporters, which include labor unions and business groups. But he may face resistance from Hannemann supporters who, like their candidate, opposed the civil unions measure.