Gauging Where Political Winds Blow

Finally, the balloting has begun. By the time the polls open on Saturday morning, election officials predict that as high as 50 percent of the votes will already have been cast by mail or walk-in voting. So who will emerge victorious Saturday night (or Sunday morning) after we traditionalists have trooped to our polling places and punched our 50 percent or so of the ballots?

According to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser‘s Hawaii Poll, it’ll be Mazie Hirono over Ed Case in the Democratic Primary for United States Senate, Mufi Hannemann in the Democrats’ congressional District 2 contest, and Ben Cayetano at the top of the heap (if not over the top), in the non-partisan Honolulu mayoral election with one of the other two guys, Peter Carlisle or Kirk Caldwell, making it to the Nov. 6 general election as well.

So there, statistically, you have it, backed by the art and science of polling. As a dues-paying member in good standing of the Hawaii chapter of Talking Heads, however, I feel compelled to give you my thoughts on the matter. Why? Because that’s what talking heads do. We are neither artful nor scientific, but we can lick our index fingers with the best of them and gauge the direction the wind blows.

“The rail issue has dominated this campaign as no single issue has in my long, though fading, memory. And it could overwhelm Saturday’s election.”

So, here goes. Ben Cayetano will become Honolulu’s next mayor, quite possibly on Aug. 11, but probably not until Nov.6. The Hawaii Poll put him at 44 percent. His constituency is anti-rail, largely East Honolulu and Windward plus a big junk of the “I-want-to-support-my-countryman” Filipino vote. Those opposing rail are rabid, and likely to turn out in the primary, but not in sufficient numbers to overcome the combined vote of two well-known candidates, one of whom is the incumbent mayor.

And for the sake of democracy and a true reflection of the people’s will on the rail issue, I would rather see Cayetano against either Carlisle or Caldwell in the general election. General elections always draw more voters than primaries, and that will particularly be the case in presidential election year 2012 with the Hawaii-born Barack Obama at the top of the ballot. The rail issue deserves a vote, one way or the other.

Now, allow me to rotate my finger yet again. The rail issue has dominated this campaign as no single issue has in my long, though fading, memory. And it could overwhelm Saturday’s election. That would mean an early win for Cayetano, and it could have repercussions in the other two major primary races.

Ed Case and Tulsi Gabbard would be the beneficiaries. The Hawaii Poll had Case down by 18 points to Mazie Hirono, Gabbard down by 10 to Hannemann. Both Case and Gabbard maintain that their own polls show them tied or ahead of their opponents. Hannemann says his polling numbers support the Hawaii Poll’s double-digit margin.

But an overwhelming turnout by anti-rail East Honolulu and Windward Oahu in the primary would mean a whiter, more Republican, more conservative vote. Given the lack of contest on the Republican side, they would likely choose the Democratic ballot and give Case a vote. On that same ballot the Windward opponents of rail would pass on Hannemann, who many blame for having visited rail on them anew.

Would those votes be enough to win it for Case and Gabbard? Overcoming a 18-point deficit seems impossible; overcoming 10 points is possible, but improbable. But then again, both have their polls, their own index fingers in the wind.