Hanabusa shifts to aggressive in Schatz debate


HONOLULU — U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa may be changing gears in her Democratic primary race for U.S. Senate against incumbent Brian Schatz, shifting to a more aggressive approach as the final month of the campaign approaches.

Hanabusa repeatedly confronted Schatz on several issues during a televised debate on Monday night, slamming her rival on his experience, appointment and ability to read bills.

Even a question about what she likes about Schatz turned into a one-minute flurry of backhanded compliments as she called him “a survivor in this political arena.”

“I’m just amazed, you know,” Hanabusa said before recounting Schatz’s political career, from an unsuccessful run for Congress in 2006 to leading the Democratic party in Hawaii and eventually becoming lieutenant governor. “And then he convinced (Gov.) Neil Abercrombie that he should be appointed to the United States Senate.

“That’s an amazing feat — one vote created somebody as the United States senator for the state of Hawaii,” Hanabusa said. “That’s something you’ve got to admire.”

When asked the same question, Schatz said he and Hanabusa have never taken their competition personally because they are both Democrats.

“After this battle is done, I know that we will be friends,” he said.

Schatz replaced U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye after Inouye died in 2012, favoring Schatz over Hanabusa despite Inouye’s legendary reputation on the island and his public wish that Hanabusa replace him. Since then, Schatz has built up more campaign funds than Hanabusa while building relationships in Congress that he argues are beneficial to Hawaii.

Schatz confronted Hanabusa about several issues, including support for a veterans hospital in Guam he says takes focus away from Hawaii and her stances on Social Security. He also said he differed with Hanabusa on their approach to widespread federal surveillance programs, saying he thinks the government has stretched too far in its snooping of everyday Americans.

“This is a difference between Colleen and myself,” he said.

Hanabusa responded by saying Schatz was misstating votes and skipping over key details.

“Brian, you have to start to read the bills to really understand what you’re talking about,” she said.

Hawaii’s primary election is Aug. 9. The winner between Schatz and Hanabusa will likely win a general election in November because Hawaii is heavily dominated by Democrats.