HONOLULU — In a historic moment in Hawaii political history, Senate Ways and Means Chair David Ige beat incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the gubernatorial primary Saturday.
Ige got 66 percent of the vote; Abercrombie, 30.9 percent. Ige got 143,835 votes, Abercrombie, 67,368.
Ige’s victory is remarkable on a number of levels.
No Democrat incumbent Hawaiian governor has ever been defeated. Ige was relatively unknown on a statewide level while Abercrombie is one of Hawaii’s most well-known politicians. Ige was outspent 10- to-1, raising just $500,000 to Abercrombie’s $5 million.
To 400 supporters Saturday night, Ige said, “Together, we have made history. People told me I was crazy for giving up my seat in the state Senate, but I knew we needed change. They reminded me that no incumbent governor had ever lost a primary election. That changed tonight.
“The voters of Hawaii have said loud and clear that it’s not money that wins elections. It’s about grassroots campaigning, meeting voters face-to-face and, above all, listening to what they have to say.”
Former Hawaii governors George Ariyoshi and Ben Cayetano backed Ige; former Gov. John Waihee and President Obama endorsed Abercrombie.
Ariyoshi’s advice to Ige was to hold “coffee hours, coffee hours, coffee hours,” and Ige said he took the former governor’s advice.
Ige ran a grassroots campaign over 13 months on all major Hawaiian islands and spent nearly every meal with between 10 and 100 people in various parts of the state.
Abercrombie, backed by unions, endorsed Ige for the coming November general election.
A number of political pundits have debated why Abercrombie became so unpopular with voters just months after becoming governor in 2010.
Abercrombie first took office in 1975. Abercrombie’s career included state representative until 1979, state senator until 1986, Honolulu City Council member from 1988 to 1990 and nine consecutive terms in the House — 1993 to 2010 representing the 1st Congressional District.
Cayetano said he thinks Abercrombie’s loss happened because he lost touch with his base and reversed positions on key issues without explaining why.
For example, Abercrombie’s backers believed he was anti-development and pro-environment when they cast their vote in the governor’s race in 2010, but Abercrombie has become one of the most pro-development governor’s in Hawaii’s history, allowing several key development projects to move forward.
Abercrombie is brash and even abrasive, often accused of overstating his accomplishments. Ige appears genuine, quiet and understated.
Abercrombie pushed through same-sex marriage in a special legislative session that he convened in October, a move that outraged a number of social conservatives.
In the general election, Ige will take on two formidable opponents, former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, a Republican and former judge, school teacher and coach. Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, a Democrat who served as mayor for six years, will run as an independent. Jeff Davis, a radio personality who calls himself “the solar guy,” will run on the Libertarian Party ticket.