Hawaii’s governor makes improbable comeback

Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D) on Saturday completed an improbable political resurrection, months after mishandling a dramatic missile scare that put his career in jeopardy.
Hawaii Democrats on Saturday renominated Ige, who took 51.3 percent of the vote, according to The Associated Press. His closest rival, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D), scored 44.5 percent of the vote.
{mosads} The results are a turnaround from polling conducted over the past several months that showed Hanabusa building what looked like an insurmountable lead. 
That lead built up after state emergency officials issued an erroneous alert of an inbound missile at the height of nuclear tensions with North Korea in January.
The alert caused widespread panic for 38 minutes, until officials issued a correction declaring it a test. Ige, whose administration has not released phone or email records from that window of time, came under intense criticism for his slow response.
In March, a Mason-Dixon survey showed Hanabusa leading Ige by 20 points; a May survey conducted for Honolulu Civil Beat by the Merriman River Group found Hanabusa up 6.
But Ige spent the following months rebuilding his credibility and responding quickly to other natural disasters that have hit the islands. He led response efforts to heavy rains and flooding in Kauai in April and to a slow-moving eruption on the Big Island that began earlier this summer.
“Kilauea erupted with a force that none of us have ever seen. Gov. Ige responded without any hesitation,” Big Island Mayor Harry Kim says in an ad the Ige campaign has run on heavy rotation. “I’ve said thank you governor, because he came through. He came through.”
The most recent Mason-Dixon poll conducted for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser in July found Ige leading by 4 points. The latest Civil Beat poll has him up 9.
It is rare for any incumbent to lose and then regain a lead. But Matt Fitch, who directs the Merriman River Group survey, said Ige is an incumbent about whom voters know little.
Ige won election four years ago simply by not being his opponent, deeply unpopular Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), and plenty of Hawaii voters still do not have a firm opinion of his performance or his personality. 
“This might be the rare race that’s not totally about the incumbent, and that perhaps he’s not Hanabusa,” Fitch said. “He’s the rare incumbent who didn’t start with any name recognition or favorability advantage over his challengers.”
Ige will begin the general election with a big lead over state House Minority Leader Andria Tupola, who on Saturday captured the Republican nomination. The Mason-Dixon survey from July showed Ige leading Tupola by a 57 percent to 34 percent margin.
Ige is the eighth governor of Hawaii since it became a state in 1959. Only two of those governors have been Republicans; the last Republican to win the governorship was Linda Lingle, who won election and reelection in 2002 and 2006.
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