HONOLULU - U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono won the Democratic primary for the open Hawaii U.S. Senate seat Saturday night, setting up a race in November against former Gov. Linda Lingle, who won her primary easily.
Hirono bested former U.S. Rep. Ed Case to set up a rematch of sorts against Lingle, who beat Hirono 10 years ago to become Hawaii's chief executive, then went on to serve eight years.
In the race for the 2nd Congressional District, Tulsi Gabbard had a substantial lead over Mufi Hannemann in the Democratic primary as of 10 p.m. With 116 of 135 precincts reporting, Gabbard garnered 53.7 percent of the vote, or 56,751 votes to Hannemann's 34.2 percent and 36,105 votes.
TULSI GABBARD, had substantial lead
In Maui County, Gabbard grabbed 51.2 percent, or 10,927 votes compared to Hannemann's 37.5 percent, or 8,003 votes.
Lingle had nearly 92 percent of the vote with 70 percent of precincts reporting. Republicans hope she can swing the solidly blue state their way in the party's quest to pick up four seats and win majority power in the U.S. Senate.
Lingle enters the general election as an underdog but having raised more funds thus far than Hirono and Case combined.
Hirono had nearly 58 percent of the vote with 70 percent of precincts reporting compared with 41 percent for Case. In Maui County, she got 127,408 votes or 56.6 percent. Case received 91,307 or 40.6 percent of the vote.
"It's hard not to get emotional, you guys," Hirono told supporters after Case conceded the race.
Despite a clear fundraising advantage, Hirono didn't treat her primary win like a foregone conclusion in the days leading up to the race. Case had positioned himself as more moderate than Hirono, saying her liberal politics would make things tough in the general election against Lingle.
Lingle said in an interview that the race now presents a clear choice - and Hirono doesn't understand that the race is about the people of Hawaii and their future.
"She wants to tie this race to President (Barack) Obama," Lingle said. "I'm not going to be a rubber stamp for anybody."
To her supporters, Hirono said Lingle represents Republicans coming closer to taking over the Senate, repealing Obama's health care overhaul and cutting taxes for the rich at the expense of working-class families.
"I say to Linda Lingle tonight - let's go," Hirono said.
The last time Hawaii had a Senate race without an incumbent was in 1976. Whoever wins the race to replace retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka will become the state's sixth senator.
Winning could be difficult for Lingle, given that Obama, who was born in Honolulu, is at the top of the ticket as he runs for re-election against Mitt Romney. But about one-third of voters in Hawaii are independents, ensuring Saturday's primary winners an interesting electorate.
Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, and GOP contender Charles Djou won their primaries for U.S. House in Hawaii's 1st Congressional District, covering urban Honolulu.