Supporters went nuts as Dalton Tanonaka was interviewed for TV with his wife, Yoko, at his headquarters last night.

vs. state senator

James "Duke" Aiona wins
the GOP nod, while Democrat
Matt Matsunaga cruises to victory

Food, phones fuel campaigns

By Gregg K. Kakesako

A coalition of high school friends, family and professional law enforcement contacts may have provided the winning edge for retired Circuit Judge James "Duke" Aiona in his first run for political office.

The final printout of election returns at 11:30 last night showed Aiona, 47, was well on his way to becoming the running mate for Republican gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle.

Aiona, with 34,779 votes, led his opponents: former television broadcaster Dalton Tanonaka, 48, who had 26,559 votes; and former state Rep. Cam Cavasso, third with 9,922 votes.

"Everyone in the campaign seemed to be connected to each other," said Celine Chong-Kee, Aiona's campaign manager.

Matt Matsunaga was with his daughters, Hannah, 8, left, and Sarah, 6, at his campaign headquarters.

"We tapped into that St. Louis connection," said Chong-Kee, referring to Aiona's high school where he now serves as an assistant coach.

"We're really, truly a grass-roots operation," said Chong-Kee, noting that Aiona's contacts in Hawaii's sporting community and his law enforcement background boosted his neophyte campaign efforts.

Aiona served as a county prosecutor and a Circuit Court judge, retiring from the bench in 1998. He was endorsed by the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers. He played a critical role in planning and implementing Hawaii's highly regarded Drug Court program and served as its first judge for 1-1/2 years.

Tanonaka, with his wife, Yoko, at his side, expressed optimism that the early returns would be reversed. "I think the tide will change," he told reporters. "Our strength will come in the final printouts."

On the Democratic side, state Sen. Matt Matsunaga, 43, easily bested Clayton Hee, 49, a former state representative and senator and Office of Hawaiian Affairs trustee; and former state Sen. Donna Ikeda, 63.

She resigned in July from the Board of Education to run for lieutenant governor.

By the third and final printout, Matsunaga had lengthen his lead to 52.4 percent of the votes with 97,037 votes to Hee's 26.3 percent with 48,606 votes. Ikeda was a distant third with 22,008 votes. Also in the Democratic race was Marvin Franklin with 4,178 votes.

Matsunaga, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee for the past four years, led from the first printout with a large margin.

Matsunaga said he expects Democrats to close ranks in a unified effort to maintain control of the state's major offices. "We fight like cats and dogs in the primary," said Matsunaga, "but we always come together in the general."


Food and phones
fuel campaigns

By Gregg K. Kakesako

Republican lieutenant gubernatorial candidate James "Duke" Aiona Jr. stopped by his alma mater, St. Louis School, yesterday morning just in time to see his 13-year-old son make an interception and score a touchdown in an intermediate football game against Damien Memorial High School.

"That was an omen, I hope," said Aiona, a retired Circuit Court judge and a political neophyte.

"It was exciting for him," said Celine Chong-Kee, Aiona's campaign manager, as she and more than two dozen supporters waited for the candidate last night at his McCully Shopping Center campaign headquarters.

"It was just as important as this race since he is a devoted family man," she said.

Several blocks away, Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Matt Matsunaga joined his supporters at his Kapiolani Boulevard campaign headquarters after spending much of the day "just being a father."

"One of my daughters (Sarah) had a birthday party sleepover, so I picked her up in the morning," said Matsunaga. "Then I took my other daughter, Hannah, to Palolo to make a presentation and then we voted.

"She even went into the booth with me and voted with me," said Matsunaga, who left the state Legislature after 10 years to run for the same job sought unsuccessfully by his father, Spark Matsunaga.

Television broadcaster Dalton Tanonaka, another Republican candidate, spent most of primary election day "working the phones."

"We knew it was going to be close," said Tanonaka, minutes after the first printout showed him trailing Aiona by 1,000 votes. "So I wanted to be sure my friends and family would be voting."

Among the leading candidates for lieutenant governor, Tanonaka had the most impressive eats, mostly catered by the Hungry Lion restaurant. For both Matsunaga and Aiona supporters, the spreads were home-style potluck dishes.

Bernice Chong-Kee, 82, donated three hams for Aiona's supporters, who at times seemed more interested in the outcome of the St. Louis-De La Salle football game at Aloha Stadium than in the election returns.

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