Senate candidates Schatz and Hanabusa square off ahead of election

It’s one of the most hotly contested races in the Democratic primary election — U.S. Senator Brian Schatz versus U.S. Representative Colleen Hanabusa.

They’re vying to fill the final two years of the late Senator Daniel Inouye’s term.

The two candidates squared-off in a debate held on Tuesday night in the KHON2 News studio. The debate was moderated by KHON2’s Gina Mangieri and sponsored by AARP.

Voters got to hear where Schatz and Hanabusa stand on big issues like deficits, social security, medicare, rail funding and helping the middle class.

Panelist Gerald Kato asked the candidates: “We’re all for protecting the middle class, but what specifically do you have in mind to help Hawaii’s families, and can you quantify the impact your proposal would have on a family of four?”

Schatz answered: “I think we really need to focus more on college affordability.  The President was able to sign legislation that reduced the student loan interest rate for future borrowers from about 6.8% to 3.8% but we need to do more.”

Hanabusa answered: “What we need to do for the middle class families is really they have to feel there’s a sense of confidence in what we’re doing.  I think the way we can do that is by ensuring them better and good jobs.”

Viewers also had a chance to submit questions.

Rob of Kailua asked: “Hawaii has a long tradition of re-electing incumbents in Congress.  What is your sense of the significance of this election in terms of your age and your ability to establish seniority in the Senate?”

Hanabusa answered: “Seniority is really something that is determined by you the voter as well.  No one has a right to think they’re invested in a particular seat.  You are the ones who make the decision for us as to whether we will continue to serve you.”

Schatz answered: “Well I don’t think age has any place in this discussion or election.  What I’m more focused on is who’s more effective in getting things done for the state of Hawaii.”

The conversation got a little heated when they asked each other questions.

Hanabusa asked: “You know age has become an issue in this campaign.  So can you tell me, Brian, how old is too old to be a US Senator, since you said earlier you don’t believe age should be an issue, how old is too old?”

Schatz answered: “Age is not an issue for me.  You’ve brought it up a couple of times but I certainly haven’t brought it up.”

Hanabusa replied: “Well Brian, I don’t think that’s true.  Your own little memo that you sent around says in it, at 40 years old Schatz has the promise of serving many years in the US Senate and accumulating all important seniority for the constituents of Hawaii.  And that’s one of the issues you raise in your own I guess propaganda that you send out.”

KHON2 asked non-partisan political analyst and HPU Communication Department Chair John Hart to sit in on the debate.

KHON2 asked: “After watching the debate in its entirety, who do you think won and why?”

Hart replied: “Well many sections of the debate the candidates are tied — opening sections, closing sections, sections where they’re answering journalists, they agree on many things.  Often it’s on the manini on how to do it.  Where I see a difference in this debate is when the candidates are questioning each other, and there what happens is Rep. Hanabusa has in debate what we call second line extensions, in other words, she not only has an original position, but she has an answer to the answer.  Whereas in many cases Senator Schatz’s arguments kind of start repeating after the first extension.  So if I was voting on this as the debate coach, it’s not a knockout, but on points Colleen Hanabusa wins this debate.”

Watch the debate in its entirety here.

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