Tsutsui sees ‘momentum’ after Ige’s primary victory

Two weeks after his upset of Gov. Neil Abercrombie for the Democratic Party’s gubernatorial nomination, Oahu state Sen. David Ige expressed confidence Saturday that he and Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui would ride a wave of voter support to win in the Nov. 4 general election.

“We’re working really hard. We’re not taking anything for granted. We do believe we have the strongest team of all the candidates for the general election,” he said.

Ige was interviewed while taking a break from shaking hands and chatting with some of the more than 600 people who attended Saturday’s Maui Economic Development Board Ke Alahele Education Fund dinner at the Grand Wailea.

In phone interviews Monday, however, Ige’s Republican and Independent party opponents maintained that Ige’s primary victory was more of an anti-Abercrombie than a pro-Ige vote.

“It’s a whole new ballgame. It’s anybody’s ballgame,” said Independent gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann, the former Honolulu mayor.

Republican candidate and former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona said he’s been seeing a wave of voter support come his way. That has been reflected in personal, online and mail donations, new campaign volunteers and the results of early polls that show him as the front-runner with running mate Elwin Ahu.

“We feel very good about the campaign,” he said, adding that the consensus of voters is: “We want change. We don’t want more of the same.”

The voters’ desire for change is not lost on Ige.

“The people of Hawaii have talked about wanting a change in direction, and we intend to deliver that,” he said Saturday.

Tsutsui, the first Mauian to serve as lieutenant governor, said Ige’s primary election victory showed a surge of voter support for the Democratic ticket.

“There’s no doubt that there’s momentum,” he said during a reception before the Ke Alahele event. “I think you’ll start to see in the next week a lot of different organizations, like unions or other groups that do endorsements . . . You’ll see a lot of them coming David’s way in a really broad spectrum of support.”

Tsutsui said he and Ige are mindful that both Aiona and Hannemann have run statewide campaigns before and therefore have the statewide network of campaign workers and supporters needed to succeed.

“That’s something you can’t take lightly,” he said. “They’re both very formidable opponents.”

Hannemann and Aiona showed an eagerness to scrap in their phone interviews with The Maui News.

Hannemann said the Democratic primary election results for Ige and Tsutsui did not necessarily set the stage for their general election victory, especially when a three-way race changes the math of winning.

“We believe this is going to be a tight race,” he said.

Hannemann predicted that he would repeat his success in winning the Honolulu mayor’s race twice by harvesting votes from Hawaii’s “large pool of independents,” including both Democratic- and Republican-leaning independents. In a race among Democratic, Republican and Independent contenders (although Libertarians Jeff Davis and Cynthia Marlin also are running as governor and lieutenant governor, respectively), the winning ticket would need to get at least 37 percent of the vote, Hannemann said.

He pointed out that Democrat Ben Cayetano won the governor’s office with 36.5 percent of the vote in a three-way race in 1994. In that general election, Cayetano beat Republican Pat Saiki and Independent Frank Fasi, who had resigned as Honolulu mayor to run for governor.

Hannemann said he and running mate Les Chang also have a great deal of executive experience. He added that Chang, his former Parks and Recreation Department director, is the only veteran running for governor or lieutenant governor. Chang rose to the the rank of Air Force colonel and managed 8,000 employees and a $1 billion operating budget in his last command in Okinawa.

“We believe that as a tandem we bring strong executive credentials to the table,” Hannemann said.

Ige said Tsutsui has “way more experience in state government than any of the other lieutenant governor candidates.”

“We plan to take the best of both campaigns and really work hard for November,” he said.

Ige said Abercrombie has thrown his support behind the Ige-Tsutsui ticket.

“He said he would support us in any way that we wanted,” Ige said. “We’re working with his people. A lot of his volunteers have already joined the campaign. . . . There are individuals who have campaigned for the governor who have offered to help in various activities. It is a broad campaign. We are focused on continuing what got us here, which is grass roots, looking for opportunities for coffee hours, and stew and rice functions. And we’ll be continuing that through the fall season.”

Aiona said voters have told him that “they have no trust with the way government is being administered at the legislative and executive levels.”

And, he said his campaign is the only one that has specific, concrete plans to address homelessness and affordable rental housing.

On the extent of the anti-Abercrombie vote, Aiona said many of his supporters told him they were crossing over to vote in the Democratic primary earlier this month to support Ige against the governor. He said many told him: “I got you in the general (election).”

Tsutsui said he believes that Ige would be a different, more collaborative governor than Abercrombie.

“They’re really different,” he said of Abercrombie and Ige. “Neil was the type that when he saw an injustice, a social injustice or whatever it is, he took the bull by the horns and he just went forward. David is the complete opposite . . . “David, when he thinks something is right, he’ll be willing to take a little longer getting there to make sure that people understand,” Tsutsui said.

Aiona cited a recent Hawaii News Now poll that showed he was the front-runner in the three-way race with 41 percent, followed by Ige with 34 percent and Hannemann with 15 percent.

The Republican said he didn’t take comfort from that and other polls that show him leading.

“The polls are only a snapshot at that point in time,” he said. “The only poll that matters is the one on Nov. 4.”

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.