HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Political analysts say in overwhelmingly Democratic state like Hawai'i where incumbents almost always win -- it's not often that local races are competitive, but that may not be the case for Honolulu's next mayor.
The first TV ad challenging Mayor Kirk Caldwell hit the air Wednesday. In it, opponent Charles Djou attacks Caldwell's record on rail and homelessness.
"This election for mayor is about trust," Djou said.
Hawaii News Now sat down exclusively with each of the candidates, and it's clear both opponents plan to make criticizing Caldwell their major theme.
Despite their own political resumes -- Charles Djou, a former U.S. Congressman and council member, and Peter Carlisle, a former Mayor and city prosecutor -- are focusing more on Caldwell's record than their own.
"The Mayor's office is nowhere to be found. It's a combination of incompetence and mismanagement," said Djou.
"I don't attribute a lot of good intentions to him, quite frankly. I think all of his intentions are political and self-serving," said Carlisle.
Caldwell says he is prepared for the attacks.
"It is what it is. I'll be open and transparent. I'll be there for the good and the bad," said Caldwell.
No one knows how negative this campaign could get, but experts say those that focus on failures tend to depress voters.
"Hawai'i is not immune to negative campaigns. We haven't had much of that because our elections aren't that competitive. If they were to become more competitive, I think we'd see much more of that mainland style of polarization," explained Colin Moore, a political science professor at the University of Hawai'i at Manoa and Hawaii News Now's political analyst.
Carlisle and Djou are both using issues, like rail, to hit Caldwell with broader criticism.
"The Caldwell proposal to just cut it off right at Middle Street is just a disastrous idea. It comes from simply this pattern of mismanagement and incompetence that seems to define the Honolulu rail project. That's all the more reason why we need new leadership at City Hall," said Djou.
"If you spend your life looking at just getting re-elected or looking at polls and deciding how to react to them, which is obviously what happened in the case where he made this incredible turnabout in 48 hours, then you've got somebody who is doing politics and not doing business," said Carlisle.
Caldwell disputes accusations that he has "flip-flopped" on rail and maintains that his intention is to build the rapid transit project all the way to Ala Moana, though funding may prevent that from happening right away.
"You don't govern by soundbite. Being mayor is a dirty, messy, difficult 24-7 job. I work every day of the week, and I'm not just focused on "I want to stop rail". I want this job for all the issues," said Caldwell.
All three candidates will be facing off for the first time at a debate hosted by the Hawaii Lodging and Tourism Association Thursday, July 14, 2016 at the Neal Blaisdell Center.
Hawaii News Now will be hosting a debate with the three main candidates for Honolulu Mayor on Tuesday, August 2nd. Kirk Caldwell, Charles Djou and Peter Carlisle will square off on KGMB at 7 p.m.