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Hawaii Senate Race Stokes Obama, Clinton Rift

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
It was Inouye’s dying wish that the governor appoint Hanabusa to fill the remainder of his Senate term.

To overcome Hanabusa’s name identification and her political base that is closely tied to Inouye, Schatz is banking on reigniting for his own benefit the Obama Ohana (family), as the president’s grass-roots army was known there.

Schatz held his first organizational campaign meeting on a Saturday in late March. According to a Honolulu Star-Advertiser report, more than 500 people showed up. A source close to Schatz said many of them were the same volunteers who helped spur Obama past Clinton in the state in 2008.

Hanabusa started considering a run to fill the remaining two years of Inouye’s term almost as soon as she was passed over for the appointment. A poll conducted on her behalf in late February found she took 51 percent of likely Democratic primary voters, and Schatz had 32 percent.

While Hanabusa could count on the support of the traditional Democratic base that supported and elected Inouye for so many years, the Schatz campaign will no doubt play up the senator’s ties to Obama and utilize all the organizational work put into the 2008 caucuses.

Despite Hawaii being Obama’s birthplace, the 2008 race for the state’s delegates was contested. Clinton’s supporters were boosted by her victory in the New Hampshire primary, and Chelsea Clinton made an appearance in Honolulu shortly before the mid-February caucuses.

Meanwhile, the local Obama team worked with the national campaign to surge the participation in what had traditionally been an insider caucus system.

More than 37,000 people showed up to caucus in the 51 state House districts on Feb. 19, 2008 — about 30,000 above average turnout. Obama swept each district, though there were enough super delegates in the state to keep the eventual winner unknown for several more months.

“The message that you just can’t beat in Hawai’i is the ‘local boy,’” Hanabusa was quoted saying then in the Honolulu Advertiser.

After another round of organizing to stack the state convention, Schatz was elected state party chairman, which meant a trip to Denver for the national convention as a super delegate. Hanabusa would go to Denver as a Clinton delegate.

But before Denver, as the party looked to come together, Schatz and Hanabusa were forced to organize and participate in unity events in the state — just as Obama and Clinton appeared together in Unity, N.H., in late June that year.

“We are good Democrats, and we will be able to rally together,” the Honolulu Star-Bulletin quoted Schatz saying then.

This won’t be the first time Schatz and Hanabusa face each other in a bid for Congress. In the 2006 race for the open 2nd District, Hanabusa finished a close second in a 10- candidate field to now-Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, while Schatz ended up closer to the bottom of the pack.

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