BY JASON HOROWITZ – HONOLULU — In an empty, capacious room in the Neil Abercrombie for Governor headquarters, the candidate stood behind a lectern to tape a Web video warning against the “forces of intolerance” that had gathered upon the isles of aloha.
“Hawaii,” said Abercrombie, wearing a clipped white beard, pressed blue blazer and red power tie, “was and is a place defined by its diversity.”
It is that hopeful notion of Hawaii that helped shape President Obama’s early impressions of race and identity — what he has called “What’s best in me, and what’s best in my message.” That inclusive aloha spirit is also now at the center of an unusually ugly Democratic primary that has captured the full attention of Hawaiians and churned up the very questions that Obama has grappled with, politically and personally, throughout his career.
Abercrombie, the iconic longhair of Congress and college buddy of Obama’s father, has positioned himself as the improbable post-racial candidate. His opponent in the Sept. 18 primary — a rematch 24 years in the making — is Mufi Hannemann, a supremely ambitious establishment candidate and former mayor of Honolulu of Samoan descent, who has appealed to the state’s non-white majority by playing up his island roots.