The storm-beaten seaside communities on Hawaii’s Big Island are fighting to restore electricity and running water – and likely deciding who will hold the state’s U.S. Senate seat. Two voting precincts in the region hardest hit by Tropical Storm Iselle were closed during Saturday’s primary, and about 8,000 people were asked to vote by mail for either U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz or U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in an emotional Democratic race that is still too close to call. A Democrat is expected to end up in the seat either way, so the decision won’t likely change the balance of power in the Senate. But some argue it is giving a small number of voters in a remote part of Hawaii an inordinate amount of power. Meanwhile, voters in Puna, a remote, rural community south of Hilo, said they have other priorities – like figuring out how to bathe.
“These two closed polls could determine the outcome of the Senate race, and that’s just amazing,” said Leilani Bronson-Crelly, a resident of the Puna region and small-business owner who was running for the state House of Representatives.
Both Schatz and Hanabusa planned to be in the region, pledging to help with the cleanup effort and potentially picking up a few votes. Schatz said he was working with civil defense to immediately bring federal recovery resources to the Big Island.
The candidates are competing to permanently replace beloved political icon Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died in 2012. Schatz was appointed as his replacement, and Saturday’s vote was the first election to determine who would hold the seat.