A gift for Hanabusa

Incumbents always have the advantage in elections.

“Smart money” usually flows to them because people in the know (and folks who spend huge chunks of cash on politics are always in the know) realize that incumbents are returned to office in the United States almost 90 percent of the time.

It is an almost “chicken-and-the-egg” scenario, though. Which came first, the 90 percent re-election rate or the cash that buys most elections?

In most cases, the name recognition that comes with incumbency tips the scale in favor of the former. The electorate as a whole knows the name of the incumbent. That is not necessarily true of a lot of challengers.

The name recognition advantage is not a factor, though, in Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s challenge to incumbent Sen. Brian Schatz in this year’s U.S. Senate challenge. Hanabusa is every bit as well known as Schatz.

Despite the influx of Mainland cash for Schatz, the race may well turn on gaffes.

If that is the case, Gov. Neil Abercrombie certainly gave the Hanabusa campaign a huge gift this week. In an interview with the L.A. Times, the governor seemed to question the authenticity of a letter from the late Sen. Daniel Inouye expressing his “deathbed wish” that Hanabusa be appointed as his successor in the Senate.

Abercrombie, of course, chose his then-lieutenant governor, Schatz, instead of Hanabusa.

Inouye’s widow was offended by the governor’s implication the letter may not have been written by the late senator. Abercrombie has backpedaled, apologizing profusely for any offense taken to his remarks.

It is unclear why Abercrombie even raised the subject. Inouye made no bones about his choice to succeed him – he preferred Hanabusa. The deathbed letter reiterated that, no matter who actually typed it for him. His widow made that clear again this week.

Inouye’s preference – and everything surrounding it – is a “third rail” issue for Schatz and supporters like Abercrombie. Touching it can only serve to deliver a perhaps lethal shock to the incumbent’s campaign.

* Editorials reflect the opinion of the publisher.