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Hawaii's Aloha spirit is being tested in Democratic primary for governor
"When I go to China, people look at me and they say 'Yao Ming'? And I go no, 'Yao Mufi.' I go to Japan, and I'm very comfortable singing karaoke," said Hannemann, adding that his last name is German.
In appealing to Hawaii's different ethnicities, Hannemann has found his base, but also political trouble. The former mayor sent out a much-discussed mailer that pointed out Abercrombie's lackluster voting record in Congress and lack of business and executive experience. But it also seemed to suggest Abercrombie was deficient for attending the University of Hawaii, whereas Hannemann graduated from Harvard, and listed Abercrombie's lone accomplishment as winning first place in the Lahaina Whaling Days Beard Contest.
Most explosive, though, was the information under the heading "personal." Hannemann made clear he was born in Hawaii and married a woman with a distinctly Japanese last name -- a major plus with the powerful Japanese voters. By contrast, Abercrombie was identified as a mainlander whose wife has a haole (or white) surname.
The flier backfired, turning into an effective talking point against Hannemann's character. "When you apply for a job, what do they ask? Name? Are you married? That's what it was! It was a job résumé," insisted Hannemann. When asked whether it was usual practice to ask whom a job applicant was married to, the candidate flashed his temper. "You list if you are married or not. Sometimes you put down the names. My wife's name is what it is. It was not meant to compare and contrast in a way that would make it look like anything was non-factual. It was factual. He has a wife and she is a good woman. My wife's a good woman. Let's just leave it at that and move on. What's your next question?"
Asked if it weren't relevant to the race, he said sharply: "Why are you asking me these questions? Ask me about Neil. The flier was just a small part of it, there are other things here. So let's move on!"
Since the "Compare and Decide" flier, a subsequent flier by a group called Island Values expressing suspicion of Abercrombie's religious credentials urged Christians to vote for Hannemann. Hannemann distanced himself from the material after it was widely distributed. It later emerged that an official of Island Values also belonged to Hannemann's exploratory campaign committee, though his name disappeared from the Hannemann campaign Web site after local reporters broke the story.
Much like Abercrombie, Hannemann lights up when talking about Obama, and argued that "Neil doesn't have a monopoly on the relationship with President Obama."
During the Obamas' vacation to Hawaii early this year, Hannemann made national news by exchanging tense words with the president's staff when he and another city official were prevented from greeting Obama as he snorkeled at Hanauma Bay. Hannemann had already succeeded in getting into several pictures with Obama by showing up at the Honolulu Zoo and acting as their unsolicited tour guide.
"I knew him when his name was Barry," said Hannemann, explaining that he coached the basketball team at Iolani School, the rival of Obama's Punahou School. "When he was on the J.V., we did draw up defenses for him. Oh, yeah! He was a shooter -- a good shooter."
Hannemann, who is 6-foot-7, rose from his seat to charm a bunch of women celebrating a baby shower in the hotel cafe, and then marched onto the beach.
"Go get him, brother!" Kimo Chung, the hotel's 53-year-old waterman in a green hat and sunglasses, called out to Hannemann. The voter attested that he supported Hannemann for being, like him, a "local boy."
"You got it," answered Hannemann.
On Sept. 7, Abercrombie and his wife, Nancie Caraway, arrived at Honolulu City Hall to cast early votes in the primary.
"I've got my Obama shoes on," she said, pointing at her red pumps. "I wore them on election night."
Sen. Inouye walked in, and Abercrombie's aide whispered in his boss's ear that it was the senator's birthday. As Inouye cast his vote, television reporters clamored around Abercrombie, who wore an orange Hawaiian shirt, and asked why the governor's race had become so venomous. The candidate used his answer to lament negative campaigning and depict himself as the high-minded candidate worthy of high office.
Abercrombie finished delivering his aloha talking points, reporters turned away, and Inouye sauntered into the scene.
"Happy birthday," Abercrombie told him.
"Thanks," said Inouye. "Best of luck."