Hawaii may be about to turn out of office the man who was once known as Barack Obama’s favorite governor. Neil Abercrombie, an often pony-tailed 76-year-old relic of the 1960s who knew Barack as a little boy, was swept into office in 2010 after Obama cut a TV ad touting his old friend as an “inspiring leader.”
Since then, both men have floundered in office and seen their approval ratings dip to around 40 percent. Abercrombie saw his tax increases rejected by the Democratic legislature and managed to alienate labor unions as well with his abrasive style. A new poll taken for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser shows him trailing state senator David Ige in Saturday’s Democratic primary by 18 points.
If Abercrombie survives his primary he will be a distinct underdog against former GOP lieutenant governor Duke Aiona, who lost to Abercrombie in a landslide in 2010. But this year, Aiona leads Abercrombie by 45 percent to 30 percent thanks to the presence in the race of independent Mufi Hannemann, a former Democratic mayor of Honolulu. But even an Ige primary victory may not save Democrats in the fall — the Star-Advertiser poll has Republican Aiona beating Ige by 41 percent to 34 percent because a quarter of the state’s Democrats would back a GOP candidate.
Aiona insists he is “not a party person,” and he would no doubt govern in the moderate style of former GOP governor Linda Lingle, whom he served for eight years. But any Republican serving statewide in Hawaii would be remarkable and would mean some reduction in the influence of the state’s powerful public-employee unions. In the last 38 years, Republicans there have won precisely two elections for governor or U.S. senator — the two terms won by Lingle in 2002 and 2006.