JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka shared a hug with Cyndi Apana yesterday morning before the Democratic Party's unity breakfast and program at the Pagoda Hotel.
44 days to go
Akaka revs up for campaign against so-far faceless foe
With more bravado than is expected from the usually modest man, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka basked in his primary election triumph yesterday, saying his campaign brought together not only Democrats, but all of Hawaii.
His defeated rival, U.S. Rep. Ed Case, did not attend the Democrats' traditional post-primary unity breakfast yesterday morning at the Pagoda Hotel.
The incumbent senator cruised to a comfortable victory Saturday by reaping the benefits of an alliance of progressive Democrats and mainstream traditional Democrats.
"I felt we could win it. We had about 10 percentage points, and all along we held it," Akaka said.
For the general election, Akaka will face an opponent to be chosen by the state Republicans.
Jerry Coffee won the GOP primary for Senate, even though he had withdrawn from the race because of illness. So the state GOP will have until tomorrow to select a candidate. Yesterday, Republican party leaders declined to say who they would pick.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle said only that it would be difficult for someone to start a campaign that ends in a Nov. 7 election.
"We have only 45 days to mount a race. It is going to be very difficult, but on balance they will be coming out fresh, while Sen. Akaka and his team will be coming off a very difficult primary," Lingle said.
By the end of the primary campaign, Akaka's list of supporters and endorsements read like a who's who of Hawaii business, social and political society. Akaka was endorsed by two mayors, the Democratic leaders of the Legislature and Hawaii's unions.
Mainland news media called the race between 82-year-old Akaka and his 53-year-old challenger, Case, a contest between "the man and the machine."
Primary improved state's poor voting record
A few more voters cast ballots this weekend than in 2004, slightly improving Hawaii's worst-in-the-nation voter turnout.
Election officials say 42.1 percent of registered voters in the state either went to the polls Saturday or cast their votes in advance. Out of 655,741 registered voters, 276,536 filled out ballots.
That is an increase from the 40.3 percent primary election turnout in 2004 and 41.1 percent in 2002.
Voter turnout was helped by record early and absentee voting.
Election statistics show that 102,295 people -- more than a third of the total -- cast absentee ballots, either by mail or at select pre-election polling places throughout the state.
Hawaii's turnout has dropped steadily since it became a state in 1959, according to state election records. At statehood, 84.4 percent of registered voters went to the polls in the primary election, and 93.6 percent in the general election.
There has no single reason for Hawaii's low voter turnout.
Political analysts have suggested the state's laid-back lifestyle breeds apathy, that residents do not think their votes count, that the statistics are skewed by the state's unique population or that the Democratic Party's dominance discourages competitive races.
Mark Niesse, Associated Press
Case was a private attorney who had been a maverick state legislator before unsuccessfully opposing the Democratic establishment's candidate for governor four years ago and then winning an open congressional seat. He came into the Senate race in January with little formal support.
But observers in Honolulu noted Case was the only one in Hawaii's four-person congressional delegation to support President Bush on the Iraq war, and said that Akaka's opposition to the war was a uniting factor for Democrats.
Former Gov. John Waihee said Case had failed to give a readily understandable reason for his support for the war.
Akaka agreed that Hawaii's Democratic opposition to the war "had a bigger impact that I thought at the outset."
"There were just so many people who came up to me and said, 'It was your statements against the war in Iraq that made me vote,'" Akaka said.
Others, including former Gov. Ben Cayetano, noted that Akaka had been in elective office for 30 years and is both well known and well liked.
"Likability is very important. Ronald Reagan showed that," Cayetano said. The former two-term governor and state legislator also said Hawaii's Democratic Party should look at the Akaka victory as a time to change.
"We need people like Case. We have been going in one direction too long. ... We need people in the middle and even those who are conservative, even though I didn't always feel that way," Cayetano said.
"Democrats should understand that a lot of poor people want to be rich. We should give them the tools instead of just treating them like they are entitled to aid," he said.
Democratic Party Chairman Mike McCartney agreed that the party should change but that the Akaka election showed Hawaii's Democrats like a known quantity.
"The ways things are now with the war, people want experience. People went with Akaka because he is tried and true and tested," McCartney said.
Akaka now has the odd challenge of starting his general election campaign against an unknown candidate.
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Poll workers Martha Elson and Eleanor Kaikala had time for a hula lesson Saturday during downtime at the Kamokila Park Polling Station in Honokai Hale.