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  •   In Hawaii, GOP Primary Contest Is Settled Before Votes Are Cast


    By Gebe Martinez
    LEGI-SLATE News Service
    Thursday, August 27, 1998

    WASHINGTON (Aug. 27) — Conservative Republicans won a heated intraparty election fight in Hawaii by default Wednesday when moderate Republican state Rep. Quentin Kuhio Kawananakoa unexpectedly dropped out of the race for the congressional seat now held by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D- Hawaii.

    Abercrombie is at the top of the GOP's "hit list," but Republicans had been locked in battle leading up to the Sept. 19 primary that would have decided Abercrombie's challenger.

    Kawananakoa's exit from the primary race that he was nonetheless expected to carry – which the 36-year-old state lawmaker attributed to health reasons – leaves conservative state Rep. Gene Ward, 55, as the GOP nominee.

    "I plan to do everything in my power to make sure that Gene Ward has everything he needs to run a strong, effective campaign," said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman, Rep. John Linder, R-Ga.

    "If Neil Abercrombie thinks his re-election got any easier, he is in for a rude awakening," Linder added in a statement.

    Abercrombie, a 60-year-old liberal Democrat, is considered vulnerable because he won his 1996 re-election by only 50 percent to 46 percent against Orson Swindle, who once led Ross Perot's United We Stand America.

    Recent statewide media polls showed the incumbent Democrat with shaky "favorable" ratings, yet holding his own against a Republican challenger.

    Still, Abercrombie's political fortunes could be hurt by other factors: voter dissatisfaction with the state's ailing economy, which has been aggravated by the Asian financial crisis; and a weakened Democratic Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano, who faces a tough re-election in November, given the economic woes and persistent allegations of cronyism.

    Kawananakoa was considered the likely GOP nominee for the House seat. His relative youth, good looks and royal blood line – his great grandfather was second in line to the Hawaiian throne in the last century – were strong campaign assets. And he had previously scored one political victory against Ward, when he forced Ward out as House minority leader in the state legislature last year.

    In the congressional race, Kawananakoa also had raised more money as of June 30 – $306,527 by Kawananakoa, compared to $138,602 by Ward. Abercrombie, meanwhile, had collected $653,664 as of the end of June, according to campaign finance records compiled by the nonpartisan Center For Reponsive Politics.

    As a moderate, Kawananakoa also tested better against Abercrombie than Ward in an early public opinion poll by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, and he had won the support of House moderates.

    "If the right guy wins in Hawaii, we could pick up that seat," said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said of Kawananakoa's bid in an interview with LEGI-SLATE News Service Thursday, just minutes before the NRCC released word in Washington of the candidate's surprise decision to drop out of the race.

    In a statement released by the campaign from Queen's Medical Center in Honolulu where Kawananakoa was hospitalized, the former candidate said he was being treated for "hypertension and its related conditions including heart palpitations, high blood pressure and severe headaches. Under a doctor's care, my condition slowly improves and the prognosis is good, although, at present I am unable to lead the winning campaign we all wanted."

    The former candidate anticipated that some supporters would ask why he decided against just leaving his name on the primary ballot. But he said the "honorable" course was to step aside – a move which he described as "by far, the most difficult decision I have made in my life."

    For all his campaign appeal, Kawananakoa had a dark spot on his record: an arrest and conviction in the late 1980s for cocaine possession that the courts later erased under a law for first-time offenses.

    Kawananakoa's exit from the race came as Ward – a former Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia and Borneo and later an Army interpreter during the Vietnam War – was stepping up his television ads for the primary election.

    The latest Ward spot features a spoken endorsement by Swindle, Abercrombie's 1996 opponent, who Kawananakoa had once considered in his camp. The commercial also downplays Kawananakoa's qualifications, noting that Kawananakoa owns a "new age" massage parlor.

    © Copyright 1998 LEGI-SLATE News Service

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