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Special coverage of the 2020 general election airs and streams on Hawaii Public Radio beginning Tuesday, Nov. 3, at 2 p.m. Hear NPR analysis and local insights into the results and the aftermath airing on HPR-1 and streaming on hawaiipublicradio.org and our mobile app.

Outsider Candidates Win Big In Mayoral Primaries In Two Counties

The U.S. National Archives
2020 marks the first year of Hawaii's transition to an all-mail voting system.

On both Oahu and Hawaii Island, voters opted for outsiders of experience in contests to narrow down the field of candidates for county mayor.


Hawaii’s first-ever primary election to be held entirely by mail produced historic voter turnout for a primary. Over 50% of registered voters in the islands participated, with all but a small fraction responding via mail.


Voters on Oahu had 15 options for succeeding term-limited incumbent Mayor Kirk Caldwell. On Hawaii Island, the choice was whether or not to award another four-year term to incumbent Harry Kim. In both cases, there was a resounding rejection of the status quo.


By significant margins, Honolulu voters opted for candidates without previous political experience. Rick Blangiardi and Keith Amemiya finished first and second, beating a former congresswoman, a sitting city council member, and even a former Honolulu mayor.


Top finisher Blangiardi told HPR, that trend was not  a surprise to his campaign. In an election night interview, the former television news executive said market research done by the campaign indicated that “nobody was putting a premium on experience.”


“The real attitude had to do with whether you could demonstrate leadership, be decisive, trustworthy, et cetera,” Blangiardi said. “So that has been our focus all the way through this campaign. I would tell you that while I’m very gratified there is nothing surprising about what’s happened.”


For Hawaii County mayor, voters rejected three-term incumbent Harry Kim, opting instead for County Prosecutor Mitch Roth and community organizer Ikaika Marzo by wide margins. However, Roth was quick to point out that as an elected prosecutor, he does have experience in government.


“Moving forward, I think the big difference between Ikaika and I are experience with government and knowing how government works,” Roth said. I have the advantage of being able to hit the ground running.”


The top two finishers in the nonpartisan primaries now move on to the general election in November.


Candidates on both islands will be challenged to address concerns about a troubling increase in new cases of COVID-19  and persistently high unemployment.

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