Drawing the blue line

LIHUE — It has been six days since voters statewide came out and cast their ballots in this year’s primary election.

That same amount of time has passed since all party and nonpartisan races have been settled — all, that is, except one.

The final primary ballots cast today by voters assigned to two Big Island polls — those shuttered on election day because of Tropical Storm Iselle — will likely settle the hotly contested congressional race between Democrats Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa. The two veteran lawmakers are separated by just 1,635 votes.

“I think the results are interesting in the sense that every vote counts in any race,” Kauai Young Democrats Chair Dylan Hooser said. “It should be more of an indication for people who think that voting doesn’t count because it shows that every vote makes a difference.”

Supporters of both candidates, and some who watched from the sidelines, say that the race was one that put some island Democrats in a unique, and sometimes odd, quandary.

Hanabusa garnered 7,901 votes, or 48.7 percent of all votes cast by Democrats on Kauai, according to uncertified state election reports. Schatz, meanwhile, trailed slightly with 7,266 votes, 44.8 percent of all votes cast by Democrats.

Former state lawmaker Ezra Kanoho said he worked with Schatz and Hanabusa in the Legislature and felt torn about supporting only one of them.

“I like both of them and I worked well with them when we all served in the Legislature together — they’re both very competent,” said Kanoho, who served as the honorary chair for Schatz’s campaign on Kauai. “It was a very difficult position to find myself in and I think a lot of people found themselves in that awkward position of liking both candidates and not wanting to offend the other.”

Both campaigns, he said, also had to address another difficult circumstance: the death of late Sen. Daniel Inouye, who held his seat for 49 years in Congress and was re-elected nine times.

Shortly before Inouye died in 2012, he wrote a letter asking for Gov. Neil Abercrombie to pick Colleen Hanabusa as his successor. Abercrombie, however, later appointed Schatz, the lieutenant governor at the time, to serve out the remainder of Inouye’s term.

“I think a lot of people had great loyalty for Sen. Inouye and this played into the emotional kind of voting so that his last wish could be fulfilled,” said Roy Nishida, the co-chair of Hanabusa’s campaign on Kauai.

Kauai Republican Party Chairman Bob Hickling said he has been following the race between Schatz and Hanabusa but explained that any divisions within the Democratic Party would not have much of an effect for the Republican Party.

“Obviously, there’s a big divide in the Democratic Party over who’s the right candidate — that’s my conclusion from that, but other than that, I’m not sure if there’s anything else to be drawn from it for the Republican Party,” Hickling said. “A close race in the primary tends to bring up excitement within the party that’s having the contested race, so I guess it’s not an advantage for the Republican Party.”

But despite the differences between Schatz and Hanabusa, some Democrats say the party will likely come together and support each other, regardless of today’s outcome.

“I think the Democratic Party will come together and help the winning candidate,” Nishida said. “You know, Sen. Schatz’s field representative and I are good friends, so it’s like a football game — there’s going to be a rivalry, but at the end of the day, you play as hard as you can and come together to join hands later.”


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