Democracy for America, a progressive group founded by former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean (D), waded into Hawaii's Democratic Senate primary Tuesday, announcing its endorsement of Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) over Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii).
In an email to supporters sent Tuesday, DFA's Executive Director Charles Chamberlain called Schatz one of the Democratic Party's "progressive champions under attack."
"Since Senator Schatz was appointed to fill Senator Inouye's seat at the end of 2012, he has worked tirelessly with Elizabeth Warren and others in the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party," Chamberlain wrote. "He isn't just a reliable vote for progressives in Washington D.C., he takes it a step further and organizes other Senators to join him. Whether it's fighting on the front lines against climate change, defending a woman's right to choose, or expanding Social Security, Brian Schatz has proven he's a true progressive leader."
The race is imbued with intra-party politics: Schatz was appointed to his seat by Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) after Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) died in 2012. Inouye stated before his death that he wanted Hanabusa, his protegee, to replace him.
In his email, Chamberlain said Hanabusa is "well-funded and well-known, but she doesn't have a progressive track record like his."
The primary between Schatz and Hanabusa is the first Senate race DFA has stepped into this election cycle. The group is supporting Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) in another high-octane primary against Democrat Ro Khanna.
Schatz has also picked up endorsements from MoveOn.org, the Sierra Club, the League of Conservation Voters and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. Hanabusa has the backing of EMILY's List, a group that works to elect Democratic women who support abortion rights.
Recent polling in the primary has turned up mixed results. A poll conducted by Ward Research for Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star Advertiser, released Monday, found Hanabusa leading Schatz 48 percent to 40 percent. But in 2012, the same polling company showed Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) trailing former Honolulu mayor Mufi Hannemann by 10 percent with less than two weeks before the primary, though Gabbard ultimately won the race by 18 percent.
Schatz's campaign told supporters last week that internal polling by the Mellman Group finds him leading Hanabusa by four percentage points