By Andrew Walden
Rep. Ed Case called the Democratic Senate Primary vote on Sept. 23, “a Choice between past and future” and explained on his campaign Web site: "This election gives Hawaii's voters a choice between the way things have been in Hawaii and national politics and the way they can and should be. I believe our political culture is broken and must change, and that this election asks voters to choose between the status quo and a better way forward."
But Hawaii Democratic Primary voters said “no.” They chose the Machine, represented by an ineffectual Senator Daniel Akaka with a limited future in the Senate. To win, the Machine pulled in every favor, making every possible political deal for support of Akaka. The precincts Case won match very closely with precincts whose voters usually favor Republican candidates, but even the massive Republican crossover voting numbers were not sufficient to turn the Machine Democratic tide running against Case.
Ed Case was as effective as a candidate can be. The Machine will never again be able to pull out as many votes as it did Sept. 23. The Akaka vs. Case vote represents the maximum effort by the Machine vs. the maximum effort possible -- within the Democratic Party -- by anti-Machine reformers. Hawaii Democrats chose to spite their own future in order to avoid electing a candidate with a long record of fighting corruption. The good news is that adding the Case vote to the GOP primary vote the reformers come out with 55 percent of the vote total.
Anti-Machine candidates' success will be determined by their ability to pull those last few percentage points from the reform voters of the other party. The Democrat Case had the maximum possible appeal to GOP voters -- and his appeal showed up in the huge crossover vote—but he still lost. Another anti-corruption reform politician—Republican Governor Linda Lingle -- has the maximum possible appeal to Democrat voters—resulting in huge Democrat crossover votes in the 1998 General Election and finally leading to electoral victory in 2002. Had the Sept. 23 Primary been a General Election with the Democrat Akaka running against a Republican Ed Case the numbers show that Case would have won.
Democrats voted to cling to the broken political culture of the past and reject a better way forward. Case offered them the chance to save the Democratic Party and they voted to tie themselves to the Machine, knowing full well that its end is at hand. Thus it is clear from the election results that efforts by reform-oriented candidates must be within the Republican Party if they are to succeed. The Democratic Primary electorate is just saddled with too many Machine loyalists for a reformer to win.
The Republican electorate, although smaller, does not contain Machine loyalists, making it easy for reform-oriented candidates to win Republican primaries -- even if they are relatively liberal on social issues. Examples include Gov. Lingle as well as Republican Congressional candidate Bob Hogue and the GOP’s newly announced Senate candidate Cynthia Thielen. Lingle, Thielen and Hogue all have a track record of winning office in districts where Democratic voters outnumber Republican.
Case’s victory would have resulted in both Parties headed by anti-corruption figures. The dynamics unleashed by political competition between Republicans headed by Lingle and Democrats headed by Case would have yielded huge benefits to Hawaii. But Case lost.
The contrast between Case’s failure and Lingle’s success shows that a reform candidate can only win as a Republican. To remove the dead weight of the Machine from Hawaii’s body politic, reform-minded candidates must step forward, run for office and win as Republicans in future elections.