Hawaii primary sets up races for governor, Congress in blue state

Hawaii primary sets up races for governor, Congress in blue state

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A term-limited governor and a surprise congressional retirement set the stage for Saturday’s primaries in Hawaii, with Democrats battling over offices they’re favored to win in November.

The race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Gov. David Ige (D), who’s ending his second term with low approval ratings, pits Lt. Gov. Josh Green against former Hawaii first lady Vicky Cayetano and Rep. Kaiali’i Kahele. Four other Democrats are on the ballot, but Green has consistently led in polls leading up to the primary.

Hawaii elections are conducted via ballots mailed to voters. For the primary, the deadline for ballots to be received is 7 pm local time on Saturday.

A medical doctor, Green became the public face of the state’s aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic, including a long-running requirement that travelers to the state provide negative tests or proof of vaccination.

“I’ve become like part of the family for most of the state,” Green, 52, told The Washington Post before his campaign launched in February. Cayetano, 66, got into the race last summer, and Kahele, 48, abandoned his safe House seat in May after a single term to run for governor, focusing on campaign finance reform.

In the campaign’s final weeks, Cayetano and Kahele went negative against Green, holding a joint news conference to demand more transparency of his personal finances. In May, a super PAC opposing Green began running ads about his medical credentials, pointing out that he is n’t “board certified,” though certification is n’t required to practice medicine in Hawaii.

The attacks did little to slow down Green. In debates and TV ads, he’s called his opponents desperate and promised to build more housing to tackle soaring costs and reduce homelessness.

National Republicans have not targeted the race, after investing in former lieutenant governor Duke Aiona’s 2014 campaign, only to see him lose, to Ige, by more than 12 points. Aiona, 67, entered this year’s race right before the filing deadline, and has led in polls but raised less than $24,000 for his comeback bid — about a tenth as much as retired MMA fighter BJ Penn, 43, his leading rival for the nomination.

Green has raised nearly $1.5 million, and David Turner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said that the party sees the Hawaii race as “safe.” The Republican Governors Association did not respond to a request for comment.

Six Democrats are running to replace Green as lieutenant governor, and polls have found a tight race between state Rep. Sylvia Luke, 54, and former Honolulu City Council Chair Ikaika Anderson, 44, with most voters undecided.

The race for Kahele’s open seat, in the 2nd Congressional District, has attracted more money and attention. In the final weeks, it transformed into an expensive battle between Sen. Jill Tokuda, 46, a liberal backed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and state Rep. Patrick Branco, 35, who shares most of her positions with her and has the support of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Both candidates support an assault weapons ban, Medicare-for-all legislation, and codifying Roe v. Wade. Few policy differences emerged in the three months since Kahele decided to safely abandon a Democratic seat that President Biden carried by 30 points. But last-minute spending from Web3 Forward, a super PAC funded by cryptocurrency investors, attacked Tokuda for winning a National Rifle Association endorsement in a previous race.

“All of these hit pieces that have been out against me, quite frankly, I’ve been devastated by them,” said Tokuda in a debate this month, denouncing the role played by “dark money from the mainland.”

The 2nd Congressional District covers most of Hawaii’s territory, outside of populous Oahu. In the Honolulu-based 1st Congressional District, Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) is being challenged by Sergio Alcubilla, an activist and nonprofit director who entered the race after Case, 69, joined other centrist Democrats in demanding a vote on last year’s bipartisan infrastructure bill before action on the party’s social spending and climate package.

The 1st Congressional District, which backed Biden by 29 points in 2020, was the most Democratic seat represented by any member who demanded that infrastructure spending be separated from the “Build Back Better.” The latter was stalled for months until a revamped version of it was restored in the Inflation Reduction Act. Some unions and liberal groups have endorsed Alcubilla, 43, who spent a bit more than $100,000 on his primary case while spent close to $500,000.

Both House seats are rated as safely Democratic in November by the Cook Political Report. Former congressman Charles Djou, the last Republican elected to Congress from Hawaii, left the GOP in 2018 and endorsed Biden for president in 2020.