Activist state

Hawaii primary holds races for governor and Congress in blue state

Placeholder while loading article actions

A term-limited governor and a surprise congressional retreat set the stage for Saturday’s primaries in Hawaii, with Democrats vying for the posts they are poised to win in November.

The race for the Democratic nomination to succeed Governor David Ige (D), who is end his second term with a low approval rating, pits Lieutenant Governor 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 into the primary.

Elections in Hawaii are conducted through ballots mailed to voters. For the primary, the deadline for receiving ballots is 7 p.m. local time on Saturday.

A doctor, Green has become the public face of the state’s aggressive response to the coronavirus pandemic, including a longstanding requirement that travelers to the state provide negative tests or proof of vaccination.

“I’ve become like family to most of the state,” Green, 52, told The Washington Post ahead of his campaign launch in February. Cayetano, 66, entered the race last summer, and Kahele, 48, gave up his security seat in May after just one term to run for governor, focus campaign finance reform.

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

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

National Republicans did not target the race, having invested in former Lt. 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 just before the filing deadline and led in the polls, but lower more than $24,000 for his comeback bid – about a tenth more than retired MMA fighter BJ Penn, 43, his main rival for the nomination.

The green has raised nearly $1.5 million, and David Turner, a spokesman for the Democratic Governors Association, said the party considers racing in Hawaii “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 revealed a tight race between State Representative Sylvia Luke, 54, and former Honolulu City Council President Ikaika Anderson, 44, with most voters undecided.

The race for the open seat of Kahele in the 2nd congressional district has attracted more money and attention. In recent weeks it has turned into a costly battle between Sen. Jill Tokuda, 46, a liberal backed by the Congressional Progressive Caucus, and state Representative Patrick Branco, 35, who shares most of her positions and enjoys the support of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Both candidates support an assault weapons ban, Medicare for All legislation and codification Roe vs. Wade. Few political differences have emerged in the three months since Kahele decided to safely give up a Democratic seat that President Biden carried by 30 points. But last-minute spending on Web3 Forward, a super PAC funded by cryptocurrency investors, attacked Tokuda for earning a National Rifle Association endorsement in a previous race.

“All these hit plays that have been against me, quite frankly, I was devastated by them,” said Tokuda during a debate this month, denouncing the role played by “the continent’s black money”.

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

The 1st Congressional District, which backed Biden by 29 points in 2020, was the most Democratic seat represented by all members who demanded that infrastructure spending be separated from “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 endorsed Alcubilla, 43, who spent just over $100,000 on his primary while Case spent nearly $500,000.

Both House seats are classified as safe Democrats in November by the Cook Political Report. Former Congressman Charles Djou, the last Republican elected to Congress from Hawaii, quit the GOP in 2018 and endorsed Biden for president in 2020.