HONOLULU (AP) — Former Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie says a Democrat trying to unseat a Democratic governor is nothing new.
However, it’s unusual to be successful.
In the 2014 primary election, now-Gov. David Ige unseated Abercrombie, a fellow Democrat. Now U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa wants to do the same to Ige.
But Abercrombie said Tuesday the circumstances this time around aren’t the same. He says the reasons that might have helped Ige in the 2014 primary won’t be there if Hanabusa runs against Ige.
Hanabusa announced last week that she’ll file papers to establish a campaign committee. Some political observers say this will create a race defined by personality differences instead of ideological ones.
Abercrombie’s defeat made him the first Hawaii governor to lose to a primary challenger and only the second not to win re-election.
“Democrats challenging incumbent Democrats in a gubernatorial primary is nothing new in Hawaii,” Abercrombie said Tuesday. “The only thing that was different is that Gov. Ige succeeded.”
Circumstances in a possible Hanabusa-Ige showdown “are not comparable at all,” Abercrombie said.
“We used to think in Hawaii that incumbents won,” said Colin Moore, director of the public policy institute at the University of Hawaii.
Ige’s more reserved style is now up against Hanabusa’s stronger personality, said political analyst Dan Boylan.
“He doesn’t give a good speech,” Boylan said. “He doesn’t grandstand. … He’s a modest man. He is not a dumb guy. He is, however, boring.”
But being boring also means he hasn’t committed any major mistakes, Boylan said, even though some criticize him for failing to take a strong stand on the divisive issue of a giant telescope planned for a mountain some Native Hawaiians consider sacred.
“Hanabusa enters, who has more name recognition, has been away from state government,” he said. “She can run as the change candidate, which is a powerful thing to be able to do. I think there is a sense that (Ige) has not led the state.”
Hanabusa, a lawyer, served in the state Senate for 12 years, including four as president. She is in her fifth year in Congress.
Moore said when former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye was alive, no Democrat would have dared to challenge a sitting governor from the same party.
“There would have been a time where Sen. Inouye or others would have said ‘you don’t challenge Democrats and you need to wait your turn,'” Moore said. “But those days are over. There is no kingmaker anymore.”
Inouye wanted Hanabusa to take his place, but Abercrombie, who as governor had power to appoint a successor after Inouye’s death in 2012, picked Brian Schatz instead. Hanabusa then challenged Schatz in the Democratic primary in 2014 but lost by less than one percentage point.
“That appointment played a significant role in my primary with then-Sen. Ige,” Abercrombie said. “But I don’t think it has anything to do at all with this primary.”
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