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 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 most heavily Democratic states in the country, which gave Obama 72 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election.
Abercrombie was defeating ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, 60 to 38 percent with 229 of 242 precincts reporting. 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 wives' 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.
The 55-year-old Aiona defeated his lone challenger, the underfunded Honolulu lawyer John Carroll, by a large margin.
"Let's just work as hard as we can with much aloha. Remember this: Hawaii is special, Hawaii is unique, Hawaii is all about aloha," Aiona said. "If we talk about the substance of our campaign, nobody, and I mean nobody, will beat us."
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.
"It's about ensuring that we bring balance, integrity and good judgment to government," Aiona said. "The people of Hawaii want to have that hope and that future, and we are that hope and that future for the state of Hawaii."
The lieutenant governor also may focus attention on same-sex civil unions, the subject of controversial state legislation earlier this year that he strongly opposes and Abercrombie just as strongly supports.
Abercrombie, 72, 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 the civil unions measure.Hawaiian Democrats also selected U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the longest-serving member of the U.S. Senate, to seek a ninth term.
The 86-year-old senator won the state's Democratic primary with 89 percent of the vote in early returns.
Inouye will face Cam Cavasso, who won the Republican primary, in November's election. Cavasso defeated two opponents with 69 percent of the vote in early returns.
Inouye has been a senator since 1963, and he's the chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.