Hanabusa Is Running, But Where?

The question I’m most frequently asked of late is not, “Howareya?” or “How’s the missus?” or “Howya like the weather lately?”

No, it’s, “What’s Colleen gonna do?”

Colleen being, of course, Colleen Hanabusa, the second-term congresswoman from Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.

I’d like to think the query is posed to me because of the respect and esteem in which I’m held in the Hawaii College of Certified Political Prognosticators. But, given my dismal record of accurate prognosticating over the past couple of decades, I do not think that is the case.

Rather, I’m asked because my beautiful and talented daughter-in-law, Ashley Nagaoka-Boylan, serves as the congresswoman’s Washington press secretary. I have, therefore, not only a major conflict of interest in any discussion of Hanabusa, but a pipeline to Hanabusa herself.

So whenever Ash comes back to Hawaii of late, my question to her, after “Howareya?” and “How’s my son?” is, “What’s Colleen gonna do?”

To which she replies with a shake of the head, “I don’t know. I don’t think she knows.”

Hanabusa received polling data last week that may help her to know. A QMark Research telephone poll asked 501 registered Hawaii voters whom they would support in a Democratic primary for governor between Hanabusa and incumbent Gov. Neil Abercrombie. Fifty-five percent opted for Hanabusa, 28 percent for Abercrombie, with 17 percent unsure or unwilling to answer. Among likely Democratic voters Hanabusa did even better, 61 percent to Abercrombie’s 27 percent.

QMark researchers asked about a Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate as well. There Hanabusa outdrew Abercrombie-appointee Brian Schatz 54 percent to 32 percent. Adjusted for likely Democratic voters, Hanabusa won 61 percent to 30 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 4.5 percent.

So good news for the congresswoman, right? Run for Governor, she wins, making her the first successful challenger of an incumbent governor since Jack Burns beat Bill Quinn in 1962. Or run for the Senate, where she also wins. Or hold tight to the CD1 as its incumbent.

Only the third alternative qualifies as a sure thing. The other two, despite Hanabusa’s impressive numbers in the QMark poll, are fraught with danger. The first of which is posed in the preface to a political pollster’s initial question: “If the election were held today for …”

Hawaii’s Democratic primary for governor and the Senate is more than 16 months away from the week in which QMark researchers found Hanabusa with her big margins over Abercrombie and Schatz.

Much can happen in 16 months – much can, and will, happen in half that time. Ask CD2 Congress candidate Mufi Hannemann or mayoral candidate Ben Cayetano, both of whom had winning margins over opponents in the first months of election year 2012.

Abercrombie has $2.5 million with which to run for reelection and 16 months in which to raise significantly more. He also has the power of incumbency and his considerable talents as a campaigner.

A Senate race looks better for Hanabusa, but its result problematic nonetheless. Schatz lives and breathes politics, he knows how to raise money, and he enjoys a relationship with both the governor who appointed him and the President of the United States, whose 2008 Hawaii campaign he co-chaired.

Don’t misunderstand. Hanabusa’s no slouch herself. She’s wickedly smart – anyone whose dealt with her as a labor lawyer, as a state senator or as the Senate’s first female president will attest to that.

And respect for Hanabusa’s intelligence and legislative skills, not numbers in a poll 16 months out, is what will win her the governorship, a seat in the Senate or a third term in the House.