Candidate Ige makes visit to Valley Isle to raise profile

HSTA Lanai Teachers July 2014
Picture provided by HSTA Lanai Chapter teachers.

Candidate Ige makes visit to Valley Isle to raise profile

The state senator, challenging fellow Democrat Gov. Abercrombie, tries to elevate his name recognition

By Derrick DePledge

KAHULUI » State Sen. David Ige stopped by a luncheon for seniors Saturday at the Grand Wai­lea Resort in Kihei, Maui. He and his wife, Dawn, met in the afternoon with women who support his Demo­cratic primary campaign for governor at Cafe o’ Lei at the Dunes at Maui Lani here.

In the evening the couple attended a bon dance at Maka­wao Hongwanji Mission.

Such events are staples of any political campaign, but for Ige, who lacks campaign money and name recognition, they are especially important.

Up until last week Ige, who is challenging Gov. Neil Abercrombie, had not run a single campaign advertisement on television. His debut 30-second TV spot, called “Values,” was a low-budget message narrated by his wife that shared biographical details about the state senator.

The Ige campaign, which had raised about $389,600 through the end of June, has relied mostly on a smattering of radio ads and grass-roots events like the ones here to promote his insurgent bid.

Abercrombie, who had raised $4.7 million through June, has saturated the airwaves with advertising and is using all of the modern get-out-the-vote tools to drive his re-election. The governor, as the incumbent, also enjoys the news coverage that comes from being the state’s chief executive, staging official events here and on Hawaii island to draw attention to his work.

Ige’s name-recognition challenge could be particularly acute on the neighbor islands, which could account for about 30 percent of the votes in the primary.

The state’s electorate has moved to the left over the past decade, nowhere more so than on the neighbor islands. Political analysts had once thought that demo­graphic shifts would make the state more competitive for Republicans, but instead the voting pattern on the neighbor islands has become more Demo­cratic and has often rewarded the more progressive candidates.

Abercrombie is generally more liberal than Ige, but the governor has alienated some progressives on environmental and land use issues and has been saddled by low job approval ratings. For Ige to take full advantage of the governor’s unpopularity, he has to reach more voters before the primary.

“David Ige’s campaign has been grass-roots, and I truly believe in that,” said Leah Belmonte, who works in human resources and lives in Wai­luku. “I think it’s more personalized. One-on-one and face-to-face contact, I think, is important and key in any campaign.”

Belmonte, one of Ige’s Maui coordinators, said the reaction from people who meet with Ige has been positive. She also said radio ads and outreach through social media have been effective complements.

Many voters did not know much about the state senator at the start of his campaign.

“I think, definitely, his name is out there,” she said.

One factor in Ige’s favor is that in person he comes across exactly like the soft-spoken engineer described in his campaign material and news accounts, so there is little disconnect with voter perceptions about him. But Ige can meet personally with only so many voters.

“It’s always been a concern from the beginning,” Keith Hira­oka, Ige’s campaign manager, said of the neighbor islands. “And that’s why David has made many, many trips. We’ve sent him over to each island numerous times.”

William Kaneko, Abercrombie’s campaign manager, said the governor made it a priority to include several neighbor island leaders in his Cabinet.

Kalbert Young, state budget director, and Fred Pablo, director of the Department of Taxation, are from Maui. Scott Enright, director of the Department of Agriculture, and Dwight Taka­mine, director of the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, are from Hawaii island. Hermina Morita, the chairwoman of the Public Utilities Commission, is from Kauai.

“Having these leaders and perspectives also ensures a broad network of relationships and support throughout the state,” Kaneko said in an email.

Lt. Gov. Shan Tsu­tsui is also from Maui. But Tsu­tsui is facing a difficult primary against state Sen. Clayton Hee, and several sources here questioned privately how much local good will for Tsu­tsui would automatically transfer to Abercrombie.

Stephanie Ohigashi, the new chairwoman of the Demo­cratic Party of Hawaii, acknowledged that while she had heard of Ige, she did not know him personally until earlier this year.

“He is breaking up that unknown factor and is becoming more known,” she said.

Ohigashi, who is an aide to Maui County Councilman Mike Victorino and who also works in her husband’s Wai­luku law office, said Ige’s presence has been welcomed by voters.

“People are open,” she said. “That’s what I’m seeing and hearing from people.”