HONOLULU - With just five weeks to go before primary elections, campaigns in Hawaii are picking up speed.
U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa faced off in their first debates, which were held on Neighbor Islands. They're competing in the Democratic primary to replace the late Sen. Daniel Inouye. With few major policy differences between the candidates, they focused on their ability to build relationships and their respective track records for getting things done.
Contenders from both parties for a seat in the U.S. House also met in forums this week. All of the candidates said they would not support military intervention in Iraq. Most of them supported retaining the Jones Act, a law designed to protect the U.S. shipping industry. However, Republican Charles Djou favors an exemption for Hawaii.
Democratic hopefuls for governor, incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie and state Sen. David Ige, also met in debates and bandied about blame for Hawaii's problems.
Many candidates picked up endorsements.
Schatz gained support from former Gov. John Waihee, who touted his service on committees that deal with Native Hawaiians, tourism and energy.
"He is principled and unafraid to take on the toughest issues," Waihee said in a statement. "From the beginning of his public service work, he has steadfastly fought for real action to combat climate change, when so many others either denied the problem or just paid it lip service."
Equality Hawaii Action Fund, a nonpartisan political action committee, also endorsed Schatz, saying the support he has shown for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues is "exceedingly rare for a freshman senator."
Hanabusa picked up an endorsement from retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry, former ambassador to Afghanistan, who sought Hanabusa's advice about concerns pertaining to the Army's training activities when he served on Oahu.
"She told me to get out of my headquarters, meet with communities and activist groups, and sincerely listen," Eikenberry said in a statement. "I learned over time that her politics were that of inclusion and consensus building."
Abercrombie announced support from Hawaii Regional Council of Carpenters, a union with more than 6,000 members; and actor Daniel Dae Kim, who stars on "Hawaii Five-0."
The forums will continue next week with a televised debate between Hanabusa and Schatz on Monday night and forums for the House and gubernatorial races later in the week.