Hawaii Gov. Abercrombie Just Might Lose His Primary

Only four governors have lost primaries in the past decade, but Abercrombie has irritated a long list of Hawaiians in the last four years.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage into law.
National Journal
Karyn Bruggeman
Add to Briefcase
Karyn Bruggeman
Aug. 8, 2014, 1 a.m.

The last time Neil Aber­crom­bie lost an elec­tion, Barack Obama was just a few years out of col­lege. But the Hawaii gov­ernor and pres­id­en­tial fam­ily friend could be headed for a rare, spec­tac­u­lar gubernat­ori­al-primary flameout this week­end.

Pub­lic polling in the Aloha State has shown Aber­crom­bie trail­ing a little-known le­gis­lat­or by double di­gits ahead of Hawaii’s Demo­crat­ic primary Sat­urday. No in­cum­bent Hawaii gov­ernor has ever lost reelec­tion in a primary; na­tion­wide, it’s only happened four times in the last 10 years. In oth­er states, un­usu­al polit­ic­al tal­ents like Sarah Pal­in and Claire Mc­Caskill have knocked off in­cum­bent gov­ernors in their own primar­ies. In that con­text — not to men­tion Aber­crom­bie’s 10-to-1 fun­drais­ing ad­vant­age — three-dec­ade state Sen. Dav­id Ige’s po­ten­tial tri­umph looks even more in­con­gru­ous.

But even Aber­crom­bie’s own cam­paign ad­mits to be­ing in danger. When the latest loc­al me­dia polls came out, the gov­ernor’s cam­paign said its own in­tern­al sur­veys showed the race tied — quite the de­par­ture from the 14-point lead the cam­paign touted in early June.

“We’re cau­tiously op­tim­ist­ic,” said Ige cam­paign man­ager Keith Hiraoka. “The re­cent polls have been very en­cour­aging, but we real­ize our op­pon­ent is go­ing to work even harder now. We can­not rest, we can’t be over­con­fid­ent, we have to keep push­ing.”

Aber­crom­bie has evoked strong feel­ings among sup­port­ers and his op­pos­i­tion alike throughout his ca­reer in Demo­crat­ic polit­ics. He hasn’t lost an elec­tion since 1986, when Mufi Han­nemann beat him in a House primary. (The two have been spar­ring for years; Han­nemann, the former Hon­olulu may­or who lost the 2010 gubernat­ori­al primary to Aber­crom­bie, de­cided earli­er this year to leave the party and run for gov­ernor as an in­de­pend­ent.) Ian Lind, a former in­vest­ig­at­ive re­port­er for the since dis­ban­ded Hon­olulu Star-Bul­let­in, worked on Aber­crom­bie’s suc­cess­ful cam­paign for Hon­olulu City Coun­cil after his 1986 loss and said op­pos­i­tion to the gov­ernor is noth­ing new. Es­pe­cially in such a small state where can­did­ates are re­cycled — as evid­enced by Han­nemann’s run — it al­most im­possible to rebrand your­self.

“Based on that ex­per­i­ence I know that Neil has al­ways had this nag­ging clump of neg­at­ive pub­lic opin­ion,” Lind said. “We al­ways thought it was around 30 per­cent when we did phone bank­ing even back then.”

Op­pos­i­tion ori­gin­ally stemmed from people who saw the nat­ive New York­er as an out­sider and from those who found it easy to peg him as a lib­er­al cliché be­cause of his looks and op­pos­i­tion to the Vi­et­nam War. The ste­reo­type was, “Oh, he’s just a long-haired hip­pie, or, he’s a com­mun­ist,” Lind said.

Aber­crom­bie’s polit­ic­al troubles haven’t been nearly as sa­la­cious as the last U.S. gov­ernor to lose a primary. In 2010, Nevada Re­pub­lic­an Jim Gib­bons suffered from a string of tabloide­sque head­lines re­gard­ing an al­leged as­sault and a messy di­vorce. But Aber­crom­bie’s is­sues and res­ult­ing un­pop­ular­ity have still caused him a world of trouble.

Aber­crom­bie’s de­cision to ap­point former Lt. Gov. Bri­an Schatz to fill the U.S. Sen­ate left open by the death of Sen. Daniel In­ouye, in­stead of In­ouye-backed Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, roiled the state’s polit­ic­al class. But a look in­to the weeds of state policy high­lights Aber­crom­bie ac­tions that each chipped away at im­port­ant Demo­crat­ic con­stitu­en­cies over the course of his first term.

Former gov­ernors back­ing Ige have called Aber­crom­bie overly busi­ness-friendly, to the point of al­low­ing the over­de­vel­op­ment of Hon­olulu’s wa­ter­front. One pro­ject Aber­crom­bie backed called for a 650 foot lux­ury con­domin­i­um high rise which ex­ceeds Hon­olulu’s cur­rent build­ing height lim­it by over 200 feet. An­oth­er new apart­ment build­ing is set to in­clude a pent­house unit selling for $100 mil­lion.

“It’s like the wild, wild west out there,” former Gov. Ben Cayetano said in a video ex­plain­ing his de­cision to en­dorse Ige. “It’s ba­sic­ally for rich people.”

Ige’s second TV ad showed view­ers shots of the Hon­olulu sky­line as a nar­rat­or tells them they have “a choice between the same politi­cians who put spe­cial in­terests ahead of you, or someone you can trust.” Ige then pledges to provide “true af­ford­able hous­ing for Hawaii’s res­id­ents.”

Aber­crom­bie has also faced op­pos­i­tion over his ac­tions on statewide de­vel­op­ment pro­jects, a lack of trans­par­ency on state Su­preme Court nom­in­a­tions, and cri­ti­cism that he blocked out the voices of the very same sup­port­ers who helped elect him in 2010. Two of the state’s biggest polit­ic­al play­ers — the Hawaii Gov­ern­ment Em­ploy­ees As­so­ci­ation and the Si­erra Club — sat out this year’s gubernat­ori­al primary.

After ac­count­ing for these dis­par­ate frus­tra­tions Lind said the gov­ernor may fi­nally have ali­en­ated just enough people to lose for the first time in 28 years. “When you add them up, yeah, he’s in danger,” Lind said.

Aber­crom­bie isn’t the only gov­ernor who’s faced a rocky road to reelec­tion this year. Idaho Re­pub­lic­an Gov. Butch Ot­ter nar­rowly over­came a primary chal­lenge in May, while in­de­pend­ent-turned-Demo­crat­ic Rhode Is­land Gov. Lin­coln Chafee re­tired rather than face a tough Demo­crat­ic primary. In an in­ter­view with KHON-TV this week, Aber­crom­bie humbly ac­know­ledged the pos­sib­il­ity that he could be­come the first gov­ernor to lose his seat in 2014, wheth­er it be on Sat­urday or in Novem­ber. Aber­crom­bie’s poll num­bers for the gen­er­al elec­tion have looked as bad as they have in the primary, and though Hawaii is heav­ily Demo­crat­ic, it elec­ted a Re­pub­lic­an gov­ernor right be­fore Aber­crom­bie. Be­cause of Aber­crom­bie’s per­son­al un­pop­ular­ity, the un­der-fun­ded Ige might ac­tu­ally be a bet­ter bet for Demo­crats in the gen­er­al elec­tion.

“Emo­tion­ally, I’m just full of grat­it­ude,” Aber­crom­bie told KHON. “Whatever hap­pens, I couldn’t be hap­pi­er to have had the op­por­tun­ity to serve.”

What We're Following See More »
TRUMP’S ATTORNEY WAS SET TO TESTIFY ON WEDNESDAY
Senate Intel Postpones Testimony by Cohen
2 days ago
THE LATEST
AMENDMENT WOULD HAVE PREVENTED CONSIDERATION
Senate Rejects Effort to Nix SALT Tax Changes
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"Senate Democrats on Thursday failed in their first attempt to save the state and local tax deduction, which helps many residents of California and other high-cost states reduce their federal income tax bills. The Republican-controlled Senate voted 52-47 to reject an amendment that would have prevented the Senate from considering any bill that repeals or limits the deduction as part of a planned tax overhaul."

Source:
INTERVIEWED BY COMMITTEE STAFF
Lewandowski Meets with Senate Intelligence Committee
3 days ago
THE LATEST

"President Donald Trump's former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski appeared on Capitol Hill for a closed-door interview with the Senate intelligence committee Wednesday, according to a source familiar with the matter. Lewandowski is the latest senior official in Trump's orbit who has met with the committee as part of its investigation into Russian election meddling and possible collusion with the Trump campaign."

Source:
FISHING EXPEDITION
Some Members Seek to Wrap Up Russia Investigations by Year’s End
4 days ago
THE LATEST

"A growing number of key Republicans are sending this message to the leaders of the congressional committees investigating potential Trump campaign collusion with the Russians: Wrap it up soon. In the House and Senate, several Republicans who sit on key committees are starting to grumble that the investigations have spanned the better part of the past nine months, contending that the Democratic push to extend the investigation well into next year could amount to a fishing expedition."

Source:
WROTE LAW THAT WEAKENED OPIOID OVERSIGHT
Trump: Marino Withdrawing Nomination for Drug Czar
5 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login