Democratic candidates embrace aloha on eve of primary

  • U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa speaks with supporters Friday during the Hawaii County Grand Rally at Mooheau Park Bandstand in Hilo.

  • Gov. David Ige talks with supporters Friday during the Hawaii County Grand Rally at the Mooheau bandstand in Hilo.

  • Photos by HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald

    Those who attended the Grand Rally on Friday at Mooheau Bandstand in downtown Hilo got their last chance to see and talk to Democratic candidates in person prior to today’s primary election.

Democratic candidates for Hawaii primary races tried to set aside their intraparty rivalries Friday evening as they braced for what could be one of the closest gubernatorial races ever.

Polls are open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. today.

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Since 1954, the pre-election day Grand Rally at the Mooheau bandstand has been a Democratic tradition, after the then-minority party couldn’t find a Honolulu venue for its gathering that celebrates party unity and showcases their candidates.

Gov. David Ige and his main Democratic challenger, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, outwardly showed nothing but aloha on the eve of the end of a bruising primary campaign.

Polls and political prognosticators were showing the race as too close to call, but supporters touted their candidates during an evening of speeches, sign-waving, music and munchies.

Some 300 people, many sporting T-shirts and signs promoting their favored candidates, crowded into the bandstand and milled around the area, sampling everything from the traditional chili, hot dogs and Spam musubi to vegan ice cream, cookies and brownies.

It was definitely an Ige crowd, with foot-stamping, whistles, cheers and loud applause greeting the incumbent governor’s trip to the podium. But that didn’t stop Ige from campaigning anyway, rattling off a list of Big Island accomplishments and promising to help the island recover from the crisis surrounding the eruption of Kilauea volcano in lower Puna.

“I’m not an attorney; I’m an engineer,” Ige said, promising to continue his particular brand of leadership.

Ige was undoubtedly feeling welcomed on the Big Island, where Mayor Harry Kim recently broke his no-endorsements rule to participate in a TV ad praising Ige’s handling of the eruption and lava emergency.

Hanabusa’s confidence, meanwhile, has been bolstered by thousands of ad dollars spent on her behalf by a super PAC backed by the carpenters union, criticizing Ige’s handling of the January false missile alert.

She stuck to the party line, rather than criticizing the incumbent.

“I’m sure no matter who gets elected, they will be standing with you,” she said. “Let us all take the time to listen. … Let us all, as the party of the people of Hawaii, be able to move forward so we can all preserve the Hawaii that we love.”

Wendell Kaehuaea, a longshot gubernatorial candidate on his 23rd run for office, praised the two for keeping it civil.

“I have to compliment both of the candidates. They didn’t talk stink about each other,” Kaehuaea said.

In addition to candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and state and local races, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard also addressed the crowd.

All were preaching the gospel of unity.

“We are stronger when we stand together,” Gabbard said.

Dean Au, field representative for the Regional Council of Carpenters, one of the sponsors of the event, wasn’t about to put out any predictions as to who would win today’s gubernatorial primary.

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“There are no losers here, only winners,” Au said. “Everyone’s a winner in this house.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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