- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Aloha State, known for its clear blue waters and a deep-blue Democratic electorate, may be seeing red in the gubernatorial election in November.

Local polls by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser put incumbent Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie facing a double-digit deficit to state Sen. David Ige ahead of Saturday’s primary.

More worrisome for the state’s long-dominant Democratic Party in President Obama’s home state, both Mr. Ige and Mr. Abercrombie now trail the likely Republican challenger, former Lt. Gov. James “Duke” Aiona, by 7 percentage points and 15 percentage points, respectively, in the general election.

“It’s virtually unprecedented in Hawaii. An incumbent governor hasn’t lost a race since 1962,” said Neal Milner, political analyst and former political science professor at the University of Hawaii. Mr. Abercrombie’s difficulties are even more surprising because Mr. Ige has run a modest campaign and hasn’t presented himself as very distinctive from Mr. Abercrombie, as other successful insurgent candidates manage to do.

“This is not a guy like the guy who ran against [defeated House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor, for example,” Mr. Milner said.

The fact that both polls show the incumbent governor down gives the projection for Saturday’s primary vote credibility, Mr. Milner said.

Endorsed in a radio advertisement by President Obama, Mr. Abercrombie, a former congressman, is a deeply familiar political personality in Hawaiian politics. He’s represented Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District for 10 terms in the House of Representatives, among other posts in the state legislature and the Honolulu City Council.

But the polls say he suffers from a 58 percent unfavorable opinion, compared to Mr. Ige’s unfavorable opinion of 15 percent.

Among voters polled, 46 percent say they will vote for Mr. Ige because they don’t like Mr. Abercrombie. A sometimes-abrasive figure, the 76-year-old governor failed to get his tax hikes through the Democratic legislature and alienated key Democratic constituencies.

His decline has been “a collection of little things, not one big thing, but somehow it has overcome any reservoir of goodwill,” Mr. Milner said.

Mr. Abercrombie’s campaign manager, Bill Kaneko, said the campaign’s own poll numbers don’t show Mr. Abercrombie behind at all.

“Our own poll numbers have us tied. The momentum is clearly on our side, with key endorsements from President Barack Obama, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and our largest daily newspaper, the Honolulu Star-Advertiser,” Mr. Kaneko said in a statement to The Washington Times. “We’re confident that our game plan and grass-roots operation will carry us to victory. As Gov. Abercrombie meets with voters, he’s been met with incredibly positive reactions.”

Mr. Ige may be benefiting from his Hawaiian background. He grew up and attended school in Pearl City, a city of 50,000 on the north shore of Pearl Harbor. Named one of the tech-savviest legislators in the country, Mr. Ige brought his experience as an electrical engineer to his service in the Hawaii House of Representatives and now in the Hawaii Senate, representing the 16th District.

The Hawaii News Now poll found Mr. Ige taking twice as many Japanese voters as Mr. Abercrombie — 62 percent to 28 percent — and also leading among Hawaiian voters, 53 percent to 31 percent.

Mr. Aiona, the Republican candidate, served as a family court judge in Hawaii before he was appointed as lieutenant governor by then-Republican Governor Linda Lingle, who served two terms in the governor’s mansion. He ran for governor in 2010 and lost to Mr. Abercrombie.

Mr. Aiona has the highest favorable opinion from voters, with 63 percent.

But Mr. Milner said the polls predicting the general election in November are much too early. “At this stage, I don’t put much stock in those polls,” he said. “This is a partisan Democratic state.”

Mufi Hannemann, a former mayor of Honolulu, is running as an independent. The three-way vote could favor Mr. Aiona.

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