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Kai Kahele’s late entry is set to shake up the big money governor’s race

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) — Political analysts called U.S. Representative Kai Kahele’s announcement on Saturday that he is launching a campaign for governor Hawaii’s worst-kept secret in the past four months.

Now that he’s out, they expect a fierce gubernatorial race.

Kahele has a lot of catching up to do, and to do that he needs to distance himself from his Democratic opponents, Lt. Gov. Josh Green and former first lady Vicky Cayetano, who have already earned major endorsements.

“He’s trying to stand up against the business establishment, against the big donors on the continent and in some ways against the establishment political class here,” said HNN political analyst Colin Moore. “I think from his perspective it’s a smart way to position his campaign since he comes in so late in the game.”

But waiting until the last minute isn’t necessarily an inconvenience — as Hawaii saw in the congressional race for District 1 four years ago.

“Ed Case did the same effectively. And it kind of came at the last minute,” said political insider Trisha Kehaulani Watson, who worked on Kahele’s campaign in Congress.

“And he won that primary. So it’s certainly not unprecedented that a last-minute Democratic candidate can come along, even if there are other frontrunners, and win the election.

But as Kahele injects new excitement into the race, he is already facing criticism for alleged conflicts of interest and extended absences from Washington, D.C.

“I think people should do their homework. But we also know it’s politics, right? It’s going to get dreadful,” Watson said. “The Democratic Party has a history of fighting, bloody in the primaries, and with a viable last name like BJ Penn on the Republican ticket.

“The Democrats could really shoot themselves in the foot and pave the way for a Republican to come in. So it’s already happened. We absolutely saw it.

Watson said the race will come down to who shows up to vote and which primary people get to vote. She thinks Kahele appeals to local voters and the native Hawaiian community like Penn does.

“There’s a lot of crossover between his base and BJ’s base. So what will be interesting is that I think people may have crossed over to vote for Kai Kahele in the Democratic primary who may not have been Republicans necessarily I think we’re going to see a strong turnout in the Republican primary, which isn’t something that typically happens,” Watson said.

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