Battle brews for Hawaii U.S. Senate seat

Published On: Feb 25 2014 08:05:00 PM HST

U.S. Senator Brian Schatz has a big battle brewing to keep his congressional seat, according to a new poll.

Click here to watch Lara Yamada's story.

Challenger Colleen Hanabusa is hot on his heels, according to new numbers from KITV partner Civil Beat.

The candidates are tied at 40 percent a piece, according to a new Civil Beat poll. Twenty percent of poll respondents said they are unsure who they want to win the Democratic primary in August.

"It has to worry him, even though he's the incumbent, he was appointed. He didn't win it outright. said Civil Beat's Chad Blair.

In December 2012, after the death of longtime U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed then Lt. Gov. Schatz, after Inouye himself said he wanted Hanabusa to succeed him.

"I think the Hanabusa-Schatz thing is still very fluid," said political analyst Neal Milner.

Milner said a recent study of 50 years of Senate races found that when it comes to getting re-elected, an appointed incumbent gets almost no bump for the next race.

"What you're really seeing is that these two candidates start even," Milner said.

Civil Beat found 51 percent of likely Democratic voters see Schatz in a positive light.

A bit more, 58 percent, think positively about Hanabusa.

Even so, Schatz has some big-money backers. He's leading Hanabusa some 2-1 one in fundraising.

"My guess is he's going to start spending some of that money that he's got," Blair said.

But at her local headquarters earlier this month, Hanabusa said her grassroots efforts will turn the tide. If so, that will make the race a tough call, analysts said.

"Once you decide it's not all about ethnicity and it's not all about the hidden hand of the late Sen. Inouye, you see this is gonna be a kind of trench race in lots of ways," Milner said.


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