Abercrombie has an early money edge; he had more than $2.1 million in the bank as of the end of June, the last time he had to report his campaign balance. But polling, both public and private, shows Abercrombie is unpopular, particularly among Hawaiians of Asian and native descent. Those voters make up a large part — perhaps a majority — of the state Democratic primary electorate.
He has had a rocky first term, too, taking heat for comments in 2011, when Abercrombie said it was “so stupid” for the state to pay $4 million a year to host the NFL’s Pro Bowl, which happens annually in Honolulu (The game generates about $3 million in state taxes and almost $30 million in economic activity a year, according to Hawaii’s tourism authority.). And he has fought with the state’s powerful teacher’s union over a new contract; the union ratified a new contract in April, narrowly averting a threatened strike.
The state’s unemployment rate, 4.4 percent, is far below the national average. But unemployment is much lower on Oahu than it is on other islands. Hawaii’s political culture is fueled in part by a rivalry between Honolulu, which Abercrombie represented in Congress, and the outlying islands, which often feel left behind.
Ige has won support from former Gov. Ben Cayetano (D), a longtime supporter of Abercrombie’s who now says the governor has lost his common touch. Cayetano told a local media outlet that Abercrombie’s fights with public worker unions and his close ties to developers moved him to back Ige.
“He used to be a strong voice for the little guy. He’s not now,” Cayetano said of Abercrombie in an interview in November.
So far, no viable Republican candidate for governor has emerged. But with Abercrombie’s weak numbers, and the ongoing fight over control of a Democratic Party dividing on racial and generational lines, his biggest challenge may come from his own party.