HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Gov. Neil Abercrombie launched his re-election campaign Monday, as the Republican Party searched for an opponent to run against him in 2014.
"I promised energy and action as governor. That's a promise I'm keeping," Abercrombie told supporters gathered near his Ward Warehouse headquarters. He said he took over state government at a tough time and has done a good job.
"We faced up to these choices and we took action. We turned a $200-million-plus deficit into a $300 million positive balance," Abercrombie said.
But the head of the state's GOP paints a different picture.
"In the country, he still has one of the lowest approval ratings of governors in the country. So, who knows, maybe he's trying to make up for it on the second term," said Hawaii Republican Party Chairman David Chang.
Asked about his low popularity numbers, Abercrombie said many governors across the country faced criticism for making unpopular decisions during the recession.
"I'm quite content to transpose popularity of a decision into whether it's good for the state or not, and in the end, people will make that judgment," Abercrombie told reporters after his announcement.
"We all know the governor is excited. The trick normally is to calm him down, right," said Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, as he addressed the crowd of more than 100 Abercrombie cabinet members and supporters.
Tsutsui, who's 41, cracked up Abercrombie supporters when he said this about his 74-year-old boss: "When he first ran for office, I wasn't even born. And he's done so much for us over those last four decades."
U.S. Rep Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii) is expected to announce her campaign for the U.S. Senate later this week, taking one strong potential Abercrombie opponent out of the Democratic primary race against him.
On the Republican side, former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who listed campaign cash of $10,727 and former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who listed $21,466 in campaign funds in their February reports to the Campaign Spending Commission. Both Djou and Aiona are weighing whether to enter the governor's race.
Their war chests are tiny compared to the $1.4 million in Abercrombie's campaign cash.
Republicans like Chang admit it's an uphill battle, but he said, "We're one of the worst places to do business. Our education system, despite the teachers' great efforts, isn't doing as well as we'd like. We have a lot of high taxes and burden upon small business."
Aiona told Hawaii News Now: "I'm not ready to say 'yes' nor am I ready to say 'no.' I've been talking to a lot of people, still have a lot of supporters out there who've been urging me to run."
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell endorsed Abercrombie. Caldwell said he meets with him nearly every week and they work closely together.
"Forty years of mayors and governors fighting each other, because the mayor usually wants the governor's job," Caldwell said. "This mayor is happy in the job that he has. I love the job. I love dealing with sewage, and water and road re paving, picking up garbage," to laughter from the crowd and a cheer from Abercrombie.
Former Gov. John Waihee and Abercrombie's long-time mentor, Fujio Matsuda, the former state transportation director and University of Hawaii President, attended the event to show support for Abercrombie.