It’s Baptiste, Kouchi in the general

LIHU’E – Council Chair Ron Kouchi, who raised and spent the most money during the primary, and Council Vice-Chair Bryan Baptiste, first at the polls and second in the money-raising, will face off for the winner-take-all mayor’s race on general election day, Tuesday, Nov. 5.

Third-place finisher Councilman Randal Valenciano said he’ll stay away from politics for the next two years, then re-evaluate whether he will run for office again.

“It’s the first true poll of where we stand, a snapshot in time,” Baptiste said of the near-complete results.

“I look forward to a clean campaign,” he said of the 45 days between the primary and general elections.

“It doesn’t do any good,” he said of negative campaigning, something both candidates said they will not be part of. “It actually hurts. From our campaign, there’ll be none of that.”

Baptiste thought and hoped the contest would be as close as it was. “We’re two good men with lots to offer.”

Now, it’s time to “work hard, try to prevail in November.”

Kouchi hopes that organizations that refrained from holding candidate forums because of crowded races for both mayor and council will now schedule mayoral candidate forums.

The general election season marks the time when the two candidates can let people know about their thoughts on specific issues. Perhaps there will even be an opportunity to debate issues, Kouchi said.

“Otherwise, we’re trying to get to one voter at a time,” which worked in the primary campaign. “What’s been done has been successful,” said Kouchi, thanking all his supporters for all they have done for him.

Any thoughts by Kouchi that the race could be decided at the primary evaporated once Valenciano entered the picture, Kouchi said.

“Everybody ran good campaigns, and there were no mistakes that would have meant the jumping of large numbers of voters” from one candidate to another, Kouchi continued.

His focus was to be in the top two, “and be there for the next 45 days. First and second does matter,” said Kouchi, who like Baptiste will look for ways to move Valenciano voters into their camps.

“Randal has broad-based support, so we need to connect with voters with his vision. It’s not all Democrats,” Kouchi said.

“I’m honored and privileged to have served 12 years. The results are the results. It’s time to be a full-time lawyer again,” said Valenciano.

With 17 of 21 precincts counted, Valenciano trailed both front-runners by over 2,300 votes.

Last night at his party at Kukui Grove Park and Pavilion, Kouchi said the first printout showing him slightly ahead of Baptiste and way ahead of Valenciano didn’t really surprise him.

He knew Valenciano getting into the race late was going to make it difficult for his fellow Democrat to get commitments, and Kouchi has traditionally done well among absentee voters, as he encourages supporters to get out and vote early, he said.

That meant the race might get closer once the afternoon votes are counted. It did. With 81 percent of the precincts in last night, the difference was a slim 124 votes.

“I’m pleasantly surprised and happy about the first printout,” Kouchi said.

Baptiste, with a large crowd gathered at the Lihue Neighborhood Center, said it was his campaign strategy to end the mayor’s race last night.

That would have required him to get 50 percent of the votes cast, plus one vote, at the primary, something others thought wouldn’t be possible with three popular candidates.

“We always go to try to end it,” Baptiste said of strategy to win the mayoral election last night. “We always give 150 percent.

“There’s no replacement for hard work, getting out and talking to the public, and going from there,” Baptiste said.

With the field narrowed to two, Baptiste said he and his campaign will reach out to Valenciano voters.

“Whoever we’re going to face, we’re ready. We’re preparing for the long haul,” Baptiste said.

“We have a good group of people to take us to the next election, if necessary,” Baptiste continued.

“It’s not as much what they feel, but who gets out and votes.”

Valenciano after the first printout (showing him nearly doubled by Kouchi, 2,427, and Baptiste, 2,351, to his 1,243), was far from ready to concede.

“I had hoped to do better, but those are the results. We just have to see what further results will be,” said Valenciano, who accepted both the union endorsement and the hospitality of the Hawaii Government Employees Association headquarters on ‘Akahi Street in Lihu’e on primary night.

“My guts say I hope it will change,” said Valenciano, adding that he traditionally doesn’t do well in the absentee numbers.

“We’re still hopeful. We would rather be first than third.”

Valenciano, the only candidate to voluntarily stay under the $61,000 candidate donation ceiling as set by the state Campaign Spending Commission, entered the race late, when many of his potential supporters – Filipino and otherwise – had already joined the camps of Kouchi or Baptiste.

Staff Writer Paul C. Curtis can be reached at mailto:pcurtis@pulitzer.net or 245-3681 (ext. 224).

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