Analysis shows it takes more than money to win an election

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HILO — Money helps, but — especially in local politics — it’s not usually the determining factor in winning an election.

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HILO — Money helps, but — especially in local politics — it’s not usually the determining factor in winning an election.

That’s the conclusion of a West Hawaii Today analysis of campaign spending and votes following Friday’s deadline for candidates to file with the state Campaign Spending Commission their final reports for the primary election.

The analysis, looking at candidate spending in the race for mayor, county prosecutor and County Council, found the cost spent per vote received ranged from zero for a lesser-known mayoral candidate to $35.27 for a candidate in a three-way race for an open County Council seat.

The District 3 council candidate, Moana Kelii, managed to eke out a 16-vote last-minute lead over the third place candidate to survive to a Nov. 8 runoff against leader Susan Lee Loy, who spent $15.21 per vote.

The mayor’s race drew the next highest vote costs, with candidate Wally Lau spending $22.11 per vote, compared to fellow contestant Marlene Hapai’s $16.51 and Pete Hoffmann’s $8.49. Harry Kim, who bested the 13-candidate field without needing to go to a runoff, spent $1.06 per vote, according to the analysis.

Lau’s campaign coffers were bursting with money, much of it in large and off-island donations. But the money wasn’t enough to woo voters from former Mayor Harry Kim, well-known to the island and running on a campaign of ethics and transparency.

Hapai said Monday she had to spend money to help get her name out, as she started her campaigning late and sought to make up for lost time. She doesn’t like the implications of comparing votes to campaign funding, she added.

“I don’t believe in buying votes,” she said. “I looked at it as what needs to be done; there are 110,000 registered voters and how can I best reach them.”

The next highest cost per vote came from the District 9 council race, where challenger Tim Richards spent $17.61 per vote and bested incumbent Margaret Wille by 77 votes. Wille, who was seeking re-election to a third term, spent $9.82 per vote.

University of Hawaii at Hilo political science professor Todd Belt, while not talking about any particular race, said local races rely heavily on name recognition, giving incumbents a distinct advantage. In addition, he said, successful incumbents also have a track record that draws financial and other support from interest groups who help candidates get their messages out.

“Name recognition is the strongest predictor of voter choice in local elections than anything else,” Belt told West Hawaii Today earlier in the campaign. “There’s a strong incumbent advantage, making it difficult for a challenger to compete.”

Such was the case in the race for county prosecutor, where incumbent Mitch Roth and challenger Mike Kagami spent about the same, but Roth ended up with more than twice the votes, taking his spending to $1.67 per vote, compared to Kagami’s $3.50.

The cost of the vote

NAME SPENT VOTES PER VOTE

MAYOR

Wally Lau $220,289 9,965 $22.11

Marlene Hapai $41,408 2,508 $16.51

Pete Hoffmann $35,973 4,235 $8.49

Wendell Kaehuaea $2,711 391 $6.93

Shannon McCandless $4,590 840 $5.46

Helen Olena Luta $698 203 $3.44

Harry Kim* $21,931 20,636 $1.06

Eric Drake Weinert $0 295 $0.00

PROSECUTOR

Mike Kagami $38,678 11,057 $3.50

Mitch Roth* $40,731 24,341 $1.67

COUNCIL

DISTRICT 1

Valerie Poindexter* $1,848 3,266 $0.57

DISTRICT 2

Aaron Chung* $8,420 4,362 $1.93

Dayday Hopkins $2,138 1,284 $1.67

DISTRICT 3

Moana Kelii* $53,259 1,510 $35.27

Susan Lee Loy* $33,059 2,173 $15.21

Grace Castillo $19,322 1,494 $12.93

DISTRICT 4

Eileen Ohara* $15,699 1,591 $9.87

Madie Greene* $5,353 1,391 $3.85

DISTRICT 5

Daniel Paleka $22,290 1,657 $13.45

Jennifer Ruggles* $14,243 1,959 $7.27

DISTRICT 6

Raina Whiting $6,347 1,299 $4.89

Maile David* $3,953 2,356 $1.68

DISTRICT 7

Nestorio Domingo $8,819 1,040 $8.48

Dru Kanuha* $4,156 1,813 $2.29

DISTRICT 8

Jeffrey Citron $2,414 715 $3.38

Karen Eoff* $3,468 2,355 $1.47

DISTRICT 9

Tim Richards* $38,699 2,198 $17.61 $77.00

Margaret Wille $20,819 2,121 $9.82

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Source: West Hawaii Today analysis of final primary election data

from state Office of Elections and Campaign Spending Commission