- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

HONOLULU (AP) - The outcome of Hawaii’s emotional race to see who will succeed U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye has come down to a pair of polling stations where voting was delayed because of Tropical Storm Iselle.

U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa were locked in a dead heat in the state’s Democratic primary election, with the race too close to call early Sunday.

The anticlimactic result may send both candidates to the storm-ravaged communities on the Big Island to help clean up the rubble and perhaps pick up votes. Saturday’s primary was postponed in two precincts after downed trees and flooding made it too difficult for residents there to get to polling stations.

Schatz and Hanabusa were separated by less than 1 percentage point early Sunday - meaning the votes from the Big Island will likely determine the race. Election officials said the more than 8,200 registered voters in the two precincts in Puna will be able to vote by mail, though they have not yet set dates for when those ballots will be due.

“We don’t even know if they have ballots yet,” Hanabusa said to supporters. “Can you imagine being in Puna knowing you are determining this election? Especially since we are so Honolulu-centric.”

Schatz said that he would head to the Big Island to campaign when it’s appropriate, as long as it doesn’t interfere with recovery efforts.

“My thoughts are with the people of the Big Island, who don’t have the luxury of being able to worry about election results,” Schatz said in an interview late Saturday. “We want to make sure that we focus on their needs on a human level, on a community level, first.”

The race between Schatz and Hanabusa will determine which Democrat will head to the November general election to decide who will replace Inouye - the first vote for the seat since the beloved political icon died in 2012 and Schatz was appointed his replacement.

After Inouye died, Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie picked Schatz over Hanabusa despite Inouye’s wish to the contrary, and Hanabusa has said it’s now time for the state’s voters to make the choice themselves.

It’s a somewhat personal battle that pits two politicians with few policy differences in a race with several emotional tinges. Hanabusa has said she doesn’t consider Schatz a true incumbent because he hasn’t won an election, while Schatz argues that he has proven himself early in his Senate career by building relationships with everyone from President Barack Obama to conservative Republicans in Congress.

“This is about the kind of representation we need in U.S. Senate that doesn’t divide people across the state, that doesn’t focus on the negative, that doesn’t focus on ways to split communities up,” Schatz said to supporters.

Some voters were turned off to Hanabusa because of her emphasis on Inouye’s dying wish. “It goes against the clear definition of democracy,” said voter Ellen Tong, 45, a former environmental lobbyist.

The race to fill the final two years of Inouye’s term divided the islands’ Democrats, with some offended that Abercrombie didn’t follow the suggestion of the state’s grandfather of politics and others eager for a fresh set of leaders free from Hawaii’s old guard.

Schatz outspent Hanabusa by $1 million during the campaign, and his ads dominated the airwaves.

“Think about how much money we’ve been outspent,” Hanabusa said to supporters Saturday night. “Think about a campaign that didn’t have all the people from the mainland coming in and dumping money into it. Think about all the emails that went out against us. And yet, we are in the position we are in.”

Throughout the campaign, both candidates played up their ability to steer federal dollars for Hawaii, a trait Inouye was known for.

“Schatz is more liberal, and he’ll vote with Obama every time,” said John Lacy, a retired computer executive, who lives near Diamond Head and voted for Hanabusa. “I want someone that thinks for themselves.”

The winner is expected to cruise through the November general election in the heavily Democratic island state. Republican Cam Cavasso beat three others for his party’s nomination.

Schatz said he had to explain in the car to his children, “this is not how elections usually go.”


Associated Press writers Marco Garcia and Kaitlyn Sawyer contributed to this report.

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