HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii’s weekend primary election will most likely settle the outcome of this year’s major races.
That’s because the Democratic Party continues to overwhelmingly dominate Hawaii politics. The Republican Party isn’t even fielding candidates in most state legislative districts.
The most heated contests in Saturday’s election are for governor and for the U.S. Congressional seat representing urban Honolulu.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is challenging Gov. David Ige, a one-term incumbent, for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor. It’s a move Ige himself successfully pulled four years ago when he, then a state senator, challenged and defeated Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the primary.
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Both are experienced, long-time politicians in Hawaii, leading to a close race.
On the Republican side, state Rep. Andria Tupola is seeking the nomination along with former Pearl Harbor nonprofit CEO Ray L’Heureux and former state senator John Carroll.
Hanabusa’s decision to run for governor opened up her congressional seat, prompting six major Democratic Party figures to enter the ring to succeed her.
The diverse list includes a 65-year-old fiscally conservative Democrat and a 29-year-old democratic socialist who advocates giving all Americans Medicare and making college tuition free. Two of the others gained notoriety by opposing President Donald Trump.
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, the conservative Democrat, leads the field in name recognition and experience, having served in Congress before.
Asami Kobayashi, who has been volunteering for the Case campaign, said she liked his message of bipartisanship.
“That’s something that we really need right now when Congress seems to be really divided,” Kobayashi said.
Another contender, Lt. Gov. Doug Chin, gained popularity when he was state attorney general by leading Hawaii’s lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s ban on travelers from several mostly Muslim-majority countries.
That, along with his support for boosting spending on public education and boosting teacher salaries, earned Chin earned the endorsement of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, one of the state’s most powerful unions.
“We have seen that Doug Chin is courageous and is willing to take unpopular stands in order to protect minorities in this country,” said Corey Rosenlee, the union’s president.
Also running are veteran lawmaker Donna Mercado Kim, a former state Senate president, and Ernie Martin, the current chairman of the Honolulu City Council.
Kaniela Ing, a state representative, is hoping his calls for tuition free college, cancelling student debt and Medicare-for-all will help him reprise the dramatic come-from-behind victory his New York democratic socialist colleague, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, scored two months ago. Ocasio-Cortez defeated a powerful sitting congressman in her Democratic primary in June.
Beth Fukumoto is another candidate who made her name opposing Trump. In her case, she was a member of the Republican Party, serving as the House Minority Leader in the state House of Representatives, when she criticized Trump during the Women’s March in Honolulu. Members of her party asked her to resign her leadership post afterward. In response, she quit the party altogether and joined the Democrats.
Fukumoto’s defection whittled the Republican Party’s presence in the state House to just five out of 51 members. There is currently no Republican in the 25-member state Senate.
There is also no Republican among the state’s four-person Congressional delegation in Washington.
The GOP is fielding candidates in five of the 13 state Senate districts up for election this year. It has candidates running in less than 20 of the state’s 51 House districts.
Turnout for the last midterm primary election in 2014 was 41.5 percent.
The state has made it easier to vote this year, allowing people to register on the day of the election at their polling place. People used to have to register a month before the election.
Hawaii has open primaries, meaning voters don’t have to be members of a political party to vote for its candidates.