WASHINGTON - Hawaii's governor faced a surprisingly strong challenger Saturday in one of two primary races that have divided the Democratic Party establishment in the Pacific island chain.
Islanders cast ballots a day after weathering Tropical Storm Iselle, which caused no widespread damage but gave Gov. Neil Abercrombie the opportunity to cast himself as a steady leader with an emotional connection to people in the state. The incumbent is trying to survive a challenge from State Sen. David Ige, who held an 18-point advantage in a poll released last week.
In another dramatic race, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa is challenging U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz to determine who will fill the shoes of the beloved Sen. Daniel Inouye, the first Japanese-American elected to both houses of Congress and the second-longest serving senator in U.S. history. Inouye, who volunteered for a special U.S. Army unit of Japanese-Americans during World War II and lost his right arm in the war, died in December 2012 at age 88.
The winners of each race will face Republicans and independent candidates in the November general election, but such campaigns are longshots in heavily Democratic Hawaii.
After Iselle caused limited damage, election officials decided to press on with the primary. Voting at two polling places in jungle-like and sparsely populated Puna, on the Big Island, was postponed due to damaged roadways, but the Hawaii Office of Elections said the state's other 229 polling places opened without reports of any serious problems or delays.
As residents and tourists returned the beaches, attention shifted toward Hurricane Julio, which was expected to pass roughly 160 miles (257 kilometres) northeast of the islands at its closest point early Sunday and linger near the state into Monday.
During emergency preparations, Abercrombie hugged military response personnel, emphasized his national network of contacts and, even as forecasters predicted the storms would weaken and veer away, the governor reminded everyone to remain vigilant.
In the Senate race, Schatz has outspent Hanabusa by more than $1 million, and his ads dominated the airwaves. But Hanabusa has attracted many of Inouye's supporters, who felt it was disrespectful for Abercrombie to disregard the political icon's dying wish. Before his death, Inouye told Abercrombie to appoint Hanabusa to serve out the remainder of his term.
Abercrombie, however, chose Schatz, his lieutenant governor.
Hanabusa evoked Inouye's name throughout the campaign, aligning herself with the traditional Hawaii political establishment, while Schatz touted his endorsement from President Barack Obama, who grew up in Hawaii.
In the contest for the gubernatorial candidate, Ige, a respected state senator, mounted his challenge despite being outspent by about 10 to 1.
Voters supporting Ige cited disappointment with the way Abercrombie handled contract negotiations with teachers and his past support for a plan to tax pensions. Others credited Abercrombie for making tough choices to get the state out of a recession.
Associated Press Writer Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.
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