HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Democrats on Saturday nominated former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie in their bid to retake the governor's office from the GOP in President Barack Obama's birth state. Republican Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona coasted to his party's nomination.
Both will be seeking in November to succeed Gov. Linda Lingle, who cannot run for re-election because of term limits, in what is shaping up to be a classic liberal versus conservative battle between two veteran politicians. Democrats hope to regain control of one of the bluest states in the country, which gave Obama 72 percent of the presidential vote two years ago.
According to early unofficial returns, Abercrombie was defeating ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, 59 to 40 percent. The pair waged a spirited primary that may have turned on a flier Hannemann sent voters that highlighted the candidates' birthplaces, the universities they attended and their wife's ethnicities.
Abercrombie represented urban Honolulu for nearly 20 years before resigning in February to seek the nomination. By then, Hannemann had been unofficially campaigning for months and had already raised more than $1.6 million. But by Thursday, the former congressman's fundraising had collected $3 million in total, not far off Hannemann's $3.5 million.
Short and stout, Abercrombie now faces the more telegenic Aiona in what could be a tight race even in a state that has long been a Democratic bastion.
Aiona has served eight years as lieutenant governor, a post that most Hawaii political observers regard as holding little power and few responsibilities. He has been a loyal deputy to Lingle, who in 2002 became the first Republican to be elected governor in four decades.
But like elsewhere in the nation, the state's tourism-driven economy and government services have suffered in the last two years. Thus, Aiona's chances could be affected to the extent voters blame Lingle, and by extension Aiona.
Aiona or his allies are virtually certain to attempt to paint Abercrombie as a liberal and a big spender, and assert that Hawaii needs a GOP governor to balance a state Legislature that remains firmly in Democratic hands.
Abercrombie is likely to move quickly to bring Hannemann's array of supporters on board, ranging from labor unions to business groups that backed the former mayor.
However, Abercrombie may face some resistance from Hannemann supporters who, like their candidate, opposed controversial state legislation earlier this year that would have allowed same-gender couples to establish civil unions. Abercrombie wholeheartedly supported the unsuccessful bill.
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