Hawaii Democrats tap Kai Kahele for Tulsi Gabbard’s House seat

Airline pilot has been recently deployed with National Guard

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele won the Democratic primary Saturday for the open 2nd District seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele won the Democratic primary Saturday for the open 2nd District seat. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 9, 2020 at 6:19am

Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele is favored to be going to Congress after winning Saturday’s Democratic primary to succeed Rep. Tulsi Gabbard in the deep-blue 2nd District.

Kahale, an airline pilot and combat veteran who spent the weeks before the primary deployed with the Hawaii National Guard, was leading a four-candidate field with 77 percent of the vote with 68 percent of precincts counted. The Associated Press called the race at 7:22 p.m. Hawaii time. Brian Evans was in second with 9 percent.

The election was held by mail. 

Kahele will face Republican Joe Akana, a business development consultant who had 44 percent in a nine-way primary with 69 percent of precincts tallied. The AP declared him the winner at 8:50 p.m. Hawaii time.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Solid Democratic.

Kahele consolidated Democratic support and built a strong fundraising advantage by announcing his bid in January 2019, a week after Gabbard launched her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and before she decided not to seek another term in Congress. 

He raised $940,000 and he had $300,000 left in the bank on July 19, dwarfing the totals raised by anyone else in the race for the 2nd District, which includes parts of Oahu outside Honolulu and the other Hawaiian islands.

Kahele, who served with Gabbard in the Hawaii National Guard, positioned himself in opposition to the four-term incumbent, whose popularity had declined at home. 

He attacked her for neglecting constituents and for positions — including her “present” vote on impeachment, her past stances on gay rights and her refusal to condemn Syrian President Bashar Assad — that were often out of line with more liberal voters in the state. 

Kahele would be the first Native Hawaiian to serve in Congress since Sen. Daniel K. Akaka. He supports “Medicare for All” and the progressive Green New Deal climate package.