Deja vu: It's election day in Hawaii

Greg Nash

It's once again election day in Hawaii, as two precincts that were unable to vote in Saturday's Democratic primary headed to the polls to decide the bitter race between Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.

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A pair of precincts were unable to vote due to damage from Hurricane Iselle, and, despite protestations from Hanabusa that those areas are still recovering from the storm, a judge ruled on Thursday that they would go ahead with voting.

Schatz leads Hanabusa by 1,635 votes and appears to be the favorite to hold his seat at this point.

Polls close in Hawaii at 6 p.m., or midnight EST. Results are expected roughly an hour later. 

According to local news reports, turnout has been strong in the two remaining precincts. The areas have slightly more than 8,000 voters between them and some already cast absentee ballots that have been counted, meaning Hanabusa would have to win almost two-thirds of the vote that comes in on Friday.

Further complicating matters for Hanabusa: The area is still largely without power and running water, making it increasingly difficult to turn out voters more concerned about recovering than voting at this point.

Hanabusa protested the judge's Friday ruling, and there is some speculation she'd return to court after Friday to challenge the final vote tally, though it's unclear what basis she'd have for a legal challenge.

"We are extremely disappointed for the people of Puna, especially since Judge Nakamura said that holding this election tomorrow lacks 'common sense' and 'shows some insensitivity to the plight of people in Puna.' The judge decided that they did not deserve more time to focus on recovering from the effects of the storm," Hanabusa spokesman Peter Boylan said in a Thursday night statement.

Schatz's campaign avoided weighing in on the ruling.

"Senator Schatz continues to focus his energies on helping the people of Puna to recover, and that's what he will do on an ongoing basis.  His commitment to recovery in Puna extends beyond the election," his campaign said in a Thursday statement.

According to Hawaii Civil Beat, both candidates had to balance campaigning with relief efforts in very different ways. 

Hanabusa not only filed her unsuccessful suit to delay the vote, but her campaign set up a volunteer station staffed by volunteers in T-shirts handing out food and water. She also flew in canvassers from Oohu to help get people to the polls. 

Schatz, however, wouldn't outright campaign or talk to media. He only started sign-waving again on Friday morning. 

If Hanabusa does pull off the upset though, Schatz would be the only incumbent to lose his primary this cycle. While most targeted senators have been Republicans under fire from the Tea Party, Schatz's vulnerabilities stemmed from the way he came into office and the state's racial divisions. 

Schatz was appointed to the seat after the death of Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a local hero who had asked on his deathbed that Hanabusa replace him. 

But Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) decided to go with Schatz, then his lieutenant governor, instead. Abercrombie was defeated by over 35 points in his own primary last week by state Sen. Dan Ige (D). Still, as Abercrombie’s popularity plummeted, Schatz was able to create some separation from the less-than-beloved governor.

Schatz outraised and outspent Hanabusa by a wide comfortable margin. While EMILY’s List spent a half-million dollars on the congresswoman’s behalf, Schatz received support from the League of Conservation Voters and the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which has also worked to help Schatz this past week. 

The incumbent has also trumpeted an endorsement from favorite son President Obama, helping to boost his name identification following his appointment. Hanabusa had the backing of Inouye's widow and family. 

This post was updated at 5:30 p.m. Jessica Taylor contributed.