Abercrombie is a graduate of the University of Hawaii at Manoa. He began his political career in 1975 after winning a seat in the Hawaii House of Representatives. He served in the Hawaii House until 1979, when he was elected to the Hawaii State Senate. Upon the resignation of Cecil Heftel, who resigned from the U.S. House of Representatives to run for Governor, Abercrombie was appointed to his vacant seat in 1986. Abercrombie served the remainder of Heftel’s term on an interim basis until 1987. He served on the Honolulu City Council from 1988 to 1990 before returning to Congress in 1991. Abercrombie served nine consecutive terms in the House from 1993 to 2010, representing Hawaii’s 1st congressional district, which comprises urban Honolulu.
After incumbent Governor Linda Lingle was term limited and prevented from running for reelection, Abercrombie declared his candidacy for Governor in March 2009. In September 2010, Abercrombie won in the Democratic primary, defeating four Democratic challengers, including Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, with 59% of the vote. Abercrombie went on to face Republican nominee, Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona, in the general election.
On November 2, 2010, Abercrombie and running mate Brian Schatz defeated Aiona with 57% of the vote. Abercrombie was sworn into office on December 6, 2010. He tried to deal with various problems of the state that included the aftermath of the great recession, restructuring labor union pensions and other issues