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Primary Election Brings Some Surprises and a Few New Faces

August 15, 2012
Susan Halas  , The Maui Weekly

The 2012 primary held Saturday, Aug. 11, brought some new faces and at least one stunning upset to the local political landscape.

Gabbard Upsets Hannemann

Most notable among the victors was Democrat Tulsi Gabbard, who convincingly beat Mufi Hannemann for the Democratic spot on the ticket in the U.S. House race for the 2nd Congressional District covering rural O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands.

Article Photos

At Lingle for U.S. Senate Headquarters in Wailuku, Greg Saydah, a volunteer from Kula, and Stephanie Aveiro, Maui campaign coordinator, review the first printout on election night. Lingle easily won the Republican primary and will face Democrat Mazie Hirono in November.??

Hanneman, the former mayor of Honolulu, gave up his post to run for the seat. He had most major endorsements in the race, finished a distant second, and will once again be out of a job.

Gabbard staged a stunning debut into the big league with her first congressional race.

Her campaign focused on her military service, her youth and her desire to represent the people of the district. She was visible in traditional media, print, broadcast and direct mail. She also made effective use of new media and locally had a well-organized group of enthusiastic volunteers.

Considered the underdog in the race, she closed fast and surprised even her fans with the strength of her finish.

Although in recent years, active duty service in the American armed forces has seldom played a key role in the results, in this race the photogenic and personable Gabbard was repeatedly shown in military attire, made direct appeals to vets and her active duty service was often mentioned as a job qualification.

With her upset victory, she moves from being the daughter of O'ahu State Sen. Mike Gabbard to a key political player in her own right.

Guzman and Ing Go On to Next Round

Maui attorney Don Guzman was top vote getter for the open Kahului seat in the non-partisan contest for the Maui County Council. His supporters, decked out in orange T-shirts, turned out in substantial numbers to celebrate the favorable outcome at his old-style election night party in Wailuku.

Guzman's strong showing also highlights another trend this year. In the current political mix, it helps to be Filipino. Voters of Filipino ancestry turned out in force to support their own.

In South Maui, Kaniela Ing, a young first-time candidate, won the spot on the Democratic ticket. He will face incumbent Republican George Fontaine in the 11th District race for State House. Newcomer Ing beat three other would-be Democratic contenders in one of the most closely watched and highly visible races of the primary.

Most observers think Fontaine, Maui's only elected Republican, has the edge to hold the seat in November.

Cayetano Encore

In Honolulu, the race for mayor got the most attention and also echoed the Filipino theme. In this contest, former Gov. Ben Cayetano re-entered the political arena, and vocal opposition the proposed rail transit was the central theme of his campaign.

Despite a bleeding ulcer that sent him to the hospital only days before, on election night, Cayetano polled well above the 50 percent mark and demonstrated that-sick or well-he is a force to be reckoned with.

At the Guzman party, a cheer went up when the first printout returns for Cayetano were announced, as his fellow Filipino-Americans left no doubt about where their sympathies lie.

Hirono Beats Case

In another the closely watched race-the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate-Congresswoman Mazie Hirono soundly defeated her opponent, Attorney Ed Case.

Hirono will go on to face Republican Linda Lingle, a former Maui mayor and Hawai'i governor, in the November election.

This race is predicted to be the main event in the months between now and November. Both women are political veterans, have solid followings and have faced each other before. (Last time around, Lingle beat Hirono for in the governor race, but Hawai'i has not sent a Republican to the U.S. Senate in living memory.)

Outside money and friends in high places are expected to play a big role in the coming campaign, and already the national press has tagged this race as one to watch.

Presently, Hirono is the favorite, but on primary night there were barely a handful of Hirono supporters at her Maui headquarters, opened only days earlier. Meanwhile, at the Lingle office, just a block away, troops were plentiful and clearly not only well-prepared, but eagerly looking forward to whichever Democrat they might face next.

Same Old Same Old

Though there were some new faces and a few surprises, most races saw the Democratic incumbents move on to the General Election with little or no opposition and hardly any fanfare.

Democratic incumbents in state House and Senate races who did have challengers, such as Gil Keith-Agaran (defeated Joe Pontanilla), Angus McKelvey (defeated Edward Ka'ahui) and J. Kalani English (defeated Barbara Haliniak and Kanohowailuku Helm) won the right to run in November by substantial margins.

Others, like incumbent Democrats Rep. Joe Souki, Sen. Roz Baker and Sen. Shan Tsutsui, did not have primary opponents.

In the non-partisan Maui County Council race for the Wailuku seat, Mike Victorino faced two primary opponents-Lisa Gapero and Joe Blackburn II.

At the end of the evening, Victorino was the top vote getter by a wide margin. Other incumbent council members ran unopposed.

Losers Hannemann and Case Have Something in Common

Both Case and Hannemann spent big and fell hard.

The message in their defeat seems to be that it doesn't pay to give up a seat you have for one you hope to get.

Voters turned up their noses at both these men, and it may be a long time before either will again find serious backing in local politics.



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