Hawaii Dems ready for battle

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As primary season winds down, the only incumbent senator who could still lose is a Democrat, not a Republican. 

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) faces off against Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D) in Saturday’s bitter primary, a contest that tests the state’s racial political lines and just how much influence the deathbed wish of a late lawmaker holds. 

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

But Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) decided to go with Schatz, then his lieutenant governor, instead. Abercrombie, a former congressman, looks like he’s in real trouble in his own primary Saturday from state Sen. Dan Ige. But as Abercrombie’s popularity has plummeted, Schatz has been able to create some separation from the less-than-beloved governor. 

Most public and private polls of the race have found Schatz ahead, though one released this week found Hanabusa in the lead. Polling is notoriously unreliable in Hawaii, with pollsters regularly missing the mark on final results by double-digit margins as they misjudge turnout from the state’s diverse ethnic populations.

Hurricane Iselle also upended the final hours of the race this week, too. Though it was downgraded to a tropical storm once it hit the islands Friday morning, the normal last-minute campaign door-knocking and sign-waving events were canceled by both campaigns, who urged their voters to prize safety and stay indoors. Many are without power on the islands, which are facing high winds, downed trees and some flooding.

A minor earthquake also shook the islands this week, and another major storm is nearby, though recent projections say it’ll likely miss the islands.

Hawaiian officials decided Friday that the primaries will go on as scheduled.

Schatz has outraised and outspent Hanabusa by a wide margin. EMILY’s List has spent a half-million dollars on the congresswoman’s behalf, but Schatz received support from the League of Conservation Voters and has had a three-to-one edge in TV ads in the closing weeks. 

The incumbent has also trumpeted an endorsement from favorite son President Obama, helping to boost his name identification following his appointment.

Hawaii’s notoriously unpredictable elections and poor polling mean a win by either candidate is well within the realm of the possible, though Schatz’s allies have seemed more confident than Hanabusa’s. The storm adds an added dose of uncertainty heading into the final competitive Senate primary with an incumbent of the 2014 cycle.

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