HONOLULU — The seat representing Honolulu in Congress is open for anyone’s taking, as the incumbent, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, runs for governor instead of re-election.
Seven candidates are seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in Saturday’s primary in this deep-blue state, including the architect of Hawaii’s legal fight against President Donald Trump’s travel ban, a democratic socialist and a former Republican Party leader who defected to the Democrats after criticizing Trump.
The winner of the Democratic primary is heavily favored to win the general election.
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case has the most name recognition and an edge in experience, having served in Congress from 2002 to 2007.
The 65-year-old joined the race late, just before the filing deadline, yet leads in the polls. A Honolulu Star-Advertiser survey from early July showed 36 percent of likely Democratic voters said they would vote for Case.
His entry came five years after he said he would likely end his political career as he became an executive at Outrigger Enterprises Group, a Hawaii-based hotel chain.
Case said he’s returning to politics because the government “is not functioning at all,” and he believes he can help. He said he’ll focus on economic and fiscal issues if elected because the country needs people to hold good jobs and pay taxes if it’s going to support programs like Social Security.
He also expressed concern about the federal debt and deficits. He was a member of the “Blue Dog Coalition” — a group of fiscally moderate and conservative Democrats — during his last term in Congress.
Supporter Ted Gonzales, owner of diamond importer and retailer Pacific Diamond, said he got to know Case when his campaign headquarters was next to Gonzales’ shop years ago.
“He’s a terrific individual. It’s nice to have somebody in there personally you know that is a man of integrity,” Gonzales said.
Doug Chin, Hawaii’s lieutenant governor and former attorney general, generated early excitement among Democrats as a vocal opponent of Trump administration restrictions on travelers from Muslim-majority countries. Hawaii’s lawsuit against the policy went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where justices upheld a modified version of the ban.
Chin, 52, said he wants to secure federal dollars for affordable housing, make public colleges and universities more affordable and address climate change.
He found a backer in fellow attorney Wayne Parsons, who said Chin was an excellent lawyer and city managing director when he worked under former Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle. He commended Chin for taking on Trump’s immigration policies.
“He brings some guts to the table,” Parsons said. He said Chin was the right age: old enough to have experience but young enough to serve in Congress for a long time.
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim has raised more money than any other candidate. Kim has pulled in nearly $630,000 and had about $260,000 cash on hand as of June 30. Chin came in second with $495,000.
Kim, 66, has been a state senator for nearly two decades, including a two-year stint as Senate president. She said she would first ensure a smooth transition from Hanabusa.
Kim aims to limit the availability of automatic weapons and push for more stringent background checks for gun buyers. She also wants to cut the cost of health care and prescription drugs.
The youngest of the group, 29-year-old state Rep. Kaniela Ing, hopes to follow in the footsteps of fellow democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York City to deliver an upset. Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old who defeated one of the most powerful House Democrats in a June primary, has endorsed Ing. The same creative minds that produced her viral campaign video also made Ing’s promotional video.
Ing said he has a plan to fix the housing crisis in Hawaii and the nation. He advocates Medicare for all, tuition-free college and canceling student debt.
Also competing are state Rep. Beth Fukumoto, Honolulu City Chairman Council Ernie Martin and retired federal employee Sam Puletasi.
Until a little over a year ago, Fukumoto was the head of Republicans in the state House as the House minority leader. But members of her party asked her to resign after she criticized Trump in a speech at the Women’s March in Honolulu. She soon left the party and joined the Democrats.
The 35-year-old said Hawaii needs to rebuild seniority in Congress to promote state priorities like affordable housing, infrastructure and energy independence.
Martin, 58, said he would prioritize affordable housing and addressing homelessness. He said he would advocate for federal infrastructure investment and fight to protect Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.
The Republican side has two candidates, Cam Cavasso, a former state representative who previously ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate, and political newcomer Raymond Vinole.
In Hawaii’s other congressional district, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democrat, is running for re-election to represent rural Oahu and the neighboring islands. One of her challengers, Sherry Alu Campagna, has criticized Gabbard for refusing to participate in debates even though she’s argued in the past that candidates should debate to present their positions and be held accountable for their opinions.
Brian Evans is seeking the Republican nomination.