HONOLULU — Hawaii’s Democratic Unity Breakfast the morning after the primary election is traditionally a time for candidates to set aside their differences and coalesce against the Republican candidates they will face in November.
But the Sunday’s festivities were awkward this year after the primary left the top-ticket U.S. Senate race undecided and the sitting governor was trounced by his Democratic opponent.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, the Senate candidates who are separated by only a slim vote margin, largely ignored one another as they sat at neighboring tables until they were finally forced to acknowledge each other with a hug in between their speeches to about 200 party faithful.
“This really is an extraordinary moment in Democratic Party politics for so many reasons,” Schatz said. “Colleen and I, in a very particular way, are not ‘pau,’ ” he said, using the Hawaiian word for done.
Hanabusa asked, “Where else would you have a situation like this? I mean, look at this election. Two hurricanes, we were down to the wire.”
The other election drama was resolved Saturday night, when Gov. Neil Abercrombie was resoundingly defeated by a fellow Democrat and onetime underdog who took on the 40-year politician. Abercrombie pledged his full support to Democratic gubernatorial nominee David Ige and linked arms with him onstage on election night.
The 76-year-old governor on Sunday reiterated his intention to help Democrats and reminisced about his political career. Choking up, he vowed: “My every breath until the last I take will be for Hawaii.”
As Democrats shifted their focus to defeating Republicans in November, the focus of the U.S. Senate race shifts to a remote region on the Big Island known as Puna, where up to 8,255 registered voters will be mailed ballots in the next few days.
In an unprecedented move, elections officials postponed voting in two precincts after Tropical Storm Iselle hit the state this week, damaging roads and downing trees on the Big Island. Exactly how the election will proceed was unclear to candidates Sunday morning. The state faces a 21-day legal deadline.
“As long as civil defense deems the roads passable, they can start campaigning today,” said Stephanie Ohigashi, chairwoman of Hawaii’s Democratic Party. It will be a challenge to campaign in the rugged volcanic region, where many homesteaders are without water and power, she said.
“People are going to learn a lot about that part of the state,” said former Gov. John Waihee. “It’s made up of a lot of people who are very independent … they like being country. They like where they live.”
The two Senate candidates were praising Big Island voters Sunday, with both candidates planning to fly there to continue their campaigns. Hanabusa’s team planned to head to the island later Sunday, said her spokesman, Peter Boylan.