Expect Divisive Democratic Primary In Hawaii
During the 2010 midterms, Republicans dealt with a handful of divisive primaries where Republican voters split support between the establishment favorites running against more-ideologically oriented outsiders.
But with Sen. Daniel Akaka's (D-Hawaii) retirement announcement creating a Senate opening in Hawaii for the first time in over 20 years, Democrats could well be facing a messy primary of their own. In fact, Democrats have had a history of nasty spats in two recent Aloha State primaries - suggesting another colorful contest may well ensure in 2012.
The 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary pitted former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann against longtime Rep. Neil Abercrombie. Hannemann ran to the more liberal Abercrombie's right in a race that remained competitive throughout the summer. But the campaign took a heated turn toward the end, and negative campaigning, mostly from Hannemann, swung a lot of votes in favor of Abercrombie, who eventually pulled away, winning by over 20 points.
A Hannemann mailer that received a lot of attention late in the race was denounced by critics for having racial undertones, and even prompted criticism from Sen. Daniel Inouye (D). Abercrombie also went on offense, hitting Hannemann with a negative radio ad. Inouye later interjected again, urging both candidates to keep it cordial and focus on policy differences.
In 2006, Akaka faced then-Rep. Ed Case in a combative Democratic primary. The race became a battle between Case's argument for a transition to a new generation of representation and the Democratic establishment in the state, who backed Akaka. Inouye provided substantial financial support to help Akaka fend off Case in a race the incumbent won by just over 9 points.
Abercrombie's resounding victory in the 2010 gubernatorial primary served as a sign that Democratic voters in the state have a very small appetite for attacks perceived as nasty or overly negative. Democratic candidates who enter the race to replace Akaka will have to be mindful of how their offensive game is perceived, lest they suffer the same fate as the former Honolulu mayor.