Politics seldom intrudes on the easternmost district of the Big Island of Hawaii, a hard-to-reach paradise where the homes are nestled among lava-formed cliffs and the papaya and macadamia nut harvests loom larger than the machinations in Honolulu, let alone in Washington. “Traditionally, Puna is the place time forgot,” said Dawn Hurwitz, 58, who has lived here for almost half of her life. “This is the Wild West.” But nobody has forgotten about Puna this week. Last week, the area was battered by Tropical Storm Iselle, which left thousands of people without power or running water. And while residents are focused on digging out after the storm, politicians, aides and television crews have swarmed in, well aware that voters here are poised to finally decide the long, bitter Senate primary race between the incumbent, Brian Schatz, and Representative Colleen Hanabusa.
So on Friday, a rare election has been scheduled that will allow about 7,000 voters from this district to cast ballots that could decide the race. But it is not clear if the voting will proceed: On Wednesday, Ms. Hanabusa asked a state circuit court on the Big Island to halt the election, arguing that many people either do not know about the vote or cannot get to the polls. A hearing was set for Thursday.
In the meantime, she has been ladling out chili to residents, and Mr. Schatz has distributed water and ice. Both candidates have a lot at stake: The victor in the primary will almost certainly win the general election. No Republican has been elected to the Senate in this state since 1970.