Hawaii House primary is another test for Democrats

Election to test progressive insurgency's strength


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

WASHINGTON (CNN) - In a Democratic primary season spiced up by new names, insurgent candidates and the party's progressive push, Hawaii's elections on Saturday offered a stamp of approval to the state's status quo.

Democratic Gov. David Ige survived a challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and will move on to face Republican primary winner Andria Tupola in November, CNN projects.

The race between Ige, whose political future was thrown into doubt earlier this year over his handling of a false missile alert that went uncorrected for nearly 40 minutes, and Hanabusa divided Democrats and progressive groups in the state. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who represents Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District and eased to victory on Saturday, endorsed Hanabusa.

Hanabusa's decision to take on the incumbent created an open seat in the 1st Congressional District. The contest to replace her was won by another familiar face, former Rep. Ed Case, according to CNN projections. He took about 40% of the vote in a crowded field. Lt. Gov. Doug Chin is expected to finish second, with former state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim behind him in third. Former state GOP Rep. Cam Cavasso will be the Republican nominee.

State Rep. Kaniela Ing, a favorite of the progressive insurgency, came in a distant fourth or fifth. The 29-year-old member of the Democratic Socialists of America campaigned on single-payer health care, tuition-free college and has advocated for housing measures that would create millions of new units and prohibit unfair evictions.

Ing also had the backing of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who visited Hawaii on Thursday to campaign with him. The same ad-makers behind the viral campaign video that bolstered her bid also produced a similar video for Ing.

"It's easy to blame Republicans, to blame Trump for our problems, but we have to look in the mirror," Ing says in the ad, taking a shot at fellow Democrats. "Who controls our state? Who's controlling our party?"

But even as his campaign built excitement on the left, news that a state commission found major violations in his campaign finance reports dating back to 2011 cost him both momentum and a fine of about $15,000.

Since Ocasio-Cortez jarred the party establishment with her remarkable upset of Rep. Joe Crowley, the No. 4-ranking House Democrat, fellow leftist candidates have put together a mixed record -- generally performing better in bluer states and districts.

Abdul El-Sayed in the Michigan governor's race and Kansas congressional candidate Brent Welder, both also endorsed by Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, lost primaries, while others, like Rashida Tlaib in Michigan's 13th Congressional District, won historic victories. Sarah Smith, another Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats-backed candidate, now appears poised to advance to the general election in Washington state's 9th Congressional District, where she'll face-off with Democratic incumbent Rep. Adam Smith, who finished first in their nonpartisan primary.

Ocasio-Cortez will not have an ideological ally in Hawaii's Case, a moderate "Blue Dog" who held the seat from 2002 through 2007. He most recently lost Senate races in 2006 and 2012 and a congressional special election in 2010. Case is all but guaranteed to return to Capitol Hill, with deep-blue Hawaii's primaries essentially functioning as general elections.

His late decision to enter the contest altered a race that many expected to come down to Kim and Chin, who as Hawaii's attorney general last year took the state's legal challenge of the Trump administration's travel ban to the Supreme Court.

In the Republican Senate primary, retired systems engineer Ron Curtis emerged from an eight-candidate field, according to CNN projections, to take on Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, whose seat is seen as safe in November's midterm elections.

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