Tuesday’s candidate filing deadline brought one unexpected blast-from-the-past when former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who was the 2010 and 2014 Republican nominee for governor of Hawaii, turned in paperwork for a bid to succeed termed-out Democratic Gov. David Ige.
Aiona, who did not initially do anything to publicize his newest attempt (though strange campaign rollouts are nothing new for him), is one of the more prominent Republicans in this overwhelmingly blue state, but he doesn’t quite have a clear path through the Aug. 13 primary. Nine other candidates are also in including Honolulu City Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi and former Ultimate Fighting Championship champion B.J. Penn, though it’s too early to know how serious they are as contenders.
Aiona was elected statewide in 2002 when the ticket led by Linda Lingle defeated now-Sen. Mazie Hirino and running mate Matt Matsunaga 52-47, a victory that made Lingle and Aiona the state’s first Republican governor and lieutenant governor since 1962. The duo easily won again four years later, but Aiona faced a very difficult task when he pursued the top job in his own right in 2010. Aiona, despite a strong national political climate for his party, was dragged down by his once-popular boss’ weak approval ratings, and he lost the general election to former Rep. Neil Abercrombie 58-41.
Aiona decided to seek a rematch with Abercrombie in 2014, an announcement he made on a Christian radio station where most listeners shared his avowed opposition to same-sex marriage, and for a time he seemed to have a strong chance to avenge his defeat. Abercrombie, who spent his time as governor offending essentially every important constituency in the state, was horribly unpopular going into his re-election campaign, and polls showed Aiona ahead by as many as 15 points.
Unfortunately for Aiona, though, Ige denied Abercrombie renomination in a landslide, and the new Democratic standard bearer went into the general election without the incumbent’s many liabilities. Still, both parties believed that Aiona still had a real shot with another GOP wave looming and with conservative Democrat-turned-independent Mufi Hannemann threatening to siphon off votes from Ige, and both the DGA and RGA ended up airing ads. This race did indeed turn out to be closer than it was in 2010, but Ige still turned back Aiona 49-37 as Hannemann grabbed 12%. Aiona afterwards became a radio host, but he didn’t run for office again until now.
Democrats, meanwhile, had no unexpected developments before filing closed. Lt. Gov. Josh Green, who has a large war chest and the backing of several powerful unions, has long looked like the frontrunner in this seven-person field, though no one has released any polls since February. Green’s main opponents are businesswoman Vicky Cayetano, who served as first lady when her husband, Ben Cayetano, was governor two decades ago; and freshman Rep. Kai Kahele, who is relying on public financing.