Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary, the most competitive for the party this year, promised to be a knock-out fight — but it was nearly also a natural disaster.
For the past week, two hurricanes, Iselle and Julio, have barreled toward Hawaii, threatening to upend the race between Sen. Brian Schatz, seeking his first full term since being appointed to the Senate, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who was favored by longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye to succeed him in the Senate.
Inouye died in 2012, and Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Schatz, his lieutenant governor, over Hanabusa.
But the forecast is improving.
Iselle made landfall in Hawaii as a tropical storm Friday, but left minimal damage, and Julio will likely veer to the north of the islands.
Meanwhile, the state’s Senate Democratic primary election will go on mostly as planned Saturday — although two precincts on the big island will extend voting for a period after the election.
Public polling in the race has been wildly inconsistent, fostering a sense that anything could happen when voters headed to the polls Saturday. And that was before the specter of two massive storms sent the campaigns reeling.
“This creates unpredictability for everyone,” said one Hawaii political operative late Thursday, before Iselle made landfall. “The storm will hit in different ways across the islands and the weather impacts could be randomly felt — neighborhood by neighborhood.”
Although the islands will be free from extreme inclement weather Saturday, it’s yet unclear how turnout might be affected after Iselle — although a high number of Hawaiians, usually around 50 percent, are expected to vote absentee beforehand.
The wild finish to Hawaii’s Democratic Senate primary seems thematically fitting, given the drama that has unfolded throughout the race. Competitive on its face, the matchup between Hanabusa and Schatz has been colored and complicated by racial undertones — with Hanabusa appealing to the islands’ Asian population — and the question of Inouye’s legacy and its bearing.
Politically, Schatz has staked his election on playing to the progressive wing of the party, drawing support from Democrats such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and groups such as MoveOn.org. Meanwhile, Hanabusa has hewed to a more moderate platform.