The Democratic primary between Hawaii Sen. Brian Schatz and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa was too close to call early Sunday morning, and the race may not be decided for days.
Voting in two precincts on the Big Island, which was hit hardest by Hurricane Iselle, was postponed because of storm damage, KITV reported . Those Democrats will vote absentee and essentially decide the contest, though Hanabusa has some ground to make up.
Both campaigns told Civil Beat they will be heading to the Big Island before the crucial final ballots are cast.
With all but those two precincts reporting, Schatz led Hanabusa 49.4 percent to 48.6 percent — separated by just less than 1,800 votes out of some 214,000 cast. After Schatz was appointed to the seat in December 2012 following the death of Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the winner will likely prevail in November and serve out the remaining two years of Inouye's term, and then undoubtedly run for a full term in 2016.
The race kicked off amid an inescapable feeling of bitterness among Inouye and Hanabusa allies, perturbed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie's selection of Schatz to serve in the Senate instead of Inouye's preferred successor, Hanabusa. It had nearly as rocky a finish, as the islands avoided a one-two punch of hurricanes that threatened to disrupt the election to a greater degree than it did.
The political careers of both Democratic candidates ran on parallel tracks before colliding head-on in 2014 . Both were elected to the state Legislature in 1998, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2006, were state leaders on opposite Democratic presidential campaigns during the 2008 primary in Hawaii, and were eventually elected to higher office in 2010.
Schatz's rise over the last four years is thanks in large part to Abercrombie , on whose ticket Schatz ran after winning the 2010 lieutenant governor primary and who appointed him to the Senate the day after Christmas two years later. And it's Abercrombie, a former congressman, who cast as long a shadow over this race as Inouye. (The governor was ousted in his own renomination bid.)
The appointed senator pushed to highlight his influence and accomplishments in just a short time in the Senate, helping solidify the message he's an able replacement to the beloved Inouye. But it also helped Schatz ensure the outcome of his race wasn't defined by the governor's race, where Abercrombie received less than half the votes of his challenger, state Sen. David Ige.
Hanabusa argued she'd been more successful than Schatz over the last 16 years — a more apt comparison than their careers on Capitol Hill, she said — including her rise to state Senate president. She was backed by about $500,000 in media and direct-mail spending by EMILY's List, while Schatz received about $400,000 in air and mail support from the League of Conservation Voters and liberal groups like MoveOn.org.
Schatz was also endorsed by President Barack Obama and enjoyed the advantages of fundraising and organizational assistance from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Overall, Schatz and his allies outspent Hanabusa and her allies on the airwaves by about 2 to 1.
The race carried ethnic and generational undertones, but the crux of both candidates' messages was who could best represent Hawaii values on Capitol Hill and deliver for the islands' interests.
The general election race is rated Safe Democratic by the Rothenberg Political Report/Roll Call. Related Stories: Hurricane Iselle Could Cause Havoc for Hawaii Primary (Video) Inside House Democrats' Expanding Ground Game Senate Democrats Launch First IE Ad of 2014 (Video) Top 10 Most Vulnerable Senators Roll Call Election Map: Race Ratings for Every Seat Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call in your inbox or on your iPhone.