HONOLULU (AP) — Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie said he lost his bid for re-election in a Democratic primary because of his decision to call a special session to legalize gay marriage.
Republicans are allowed to vote for Democrats in Hawaii's open primary, and Abercrombie said they chose to vote against him because of his support for gay marriage and because they think his party rival, state Sen. David Ige, is an easier target to beat in the general election.
"Republicans crossed over en masse to vote in the Democratic primary, and then the religious factor came in," Abercrombie said. "Doctrinally I was outside the circle and paid for it." He argued that voters were urged to choose his opponent by their religious leaders.
Abercrombie, who spoke to reporters in his office, lost to Ige by a stunning 2-1 margin, the first time a Democratic governor has been unseated in a Hawaii primary.
But Abercrombie said losing was worth it to pass a law legalizing gay marriage.
"There's no way I could live with myself if I thought I was diminishing another human being's ability to reach their full capacity," Abercrombie said.
Republican gubernatorial candidate James "Duke" Aiona said he's flattered that Abercrombie thinks there are so many Republicans in Hawaii that they could have caused such a huge defeat.
In the primary, Abercrombie outspent Ige 10-1, pouring $5 million into campaign efforts and advertisements.
"I had more money than my opponent ...raised more money, spent more money...but it didn't do me any good," Abercrombie said.
Abercrombie called a special session to vote on the gay marriage bill in November last year, and Ige was among those who supported the measure.
Aiona agreed that people were upset with how Abercrombie handled the decision to legalize gay marriage in the state. Thousands of people came out to testify against the bill to legalize gay marriage and asked for the opportunity to vote, but Abercrombie didn't listen, Aiona said.
"It goes back to trust, respect and balance," Aiona said. "That's what the people wanted, he never gave it, and that's why he lost."
Voters interviewed at polling stations by The Associated Press did not mention gay marriage as their reason for voting for other candidates. Instead they complained about the way Abercrombie handled contract negotiations with teachers and his proposal to tax pensioners.
Ige's campaign spokeswoman Lynn Kenton said "every candidate has the freedom to comment on their campaign, regardless of the outcome, and if that's what Gov. Abercrombie feels was his weaknesses, that would be for him to determine."
Walter Yoshimitsu, executive director of the Hawaii Catholic Conference, said he did not know whether religious leaders were urging a vote against Abercrombie. Yoshimitsu said his organization does not endorse or denounce political candidates because of its nonprofit status, but he said people were upset that Abercrombie called the special session instead of waiting a few months until the regular legislative session.
"We couldn't have figured out what the urgency was," Yoshimitsu said. "If he had dealt with it in the regular session, there would have been more time."