For Democrats in Hawaii, Unease in an Oasis
by Adam Nagourney, December 21, 2011 (excerpts)
“Hawaii wants change, and if the Democrats don’t offer change, Hawaii is going to vote for the Republican who offers change,” Ed Case, a former member of Congress who is seeking the Democratic nomination, said the other day while campaigning here in a sea of leather and roaring motorcycles at the beginning of a Toys for Tots biker parade. “And Lingle is going to spend $7 million trying to be the change candidate.”…
…the Republicans have in Ms. Lingle what party officials on both sides say may be the one Republican who could be elected senator from Hawaii. She is well known and is an experienced campaigner with access to huge sums of money. The Democrats are now split by an ideologically caustic primary battle between Mr. Case, who presents himself as a moderate in a party that has swung too far to the left, and Representative Mazie K. Hirono. Mr. Abercrombie’s continued political troubles have worsened the atmosphere for Democrats….
“This is the first time since 1977 when we can potentially have a Republican senator,” said David Chang, the state Republican chairman….
Ms. Lingle must also avoid being identified too closely with Republicans in Washington, Democrats and Republicans here said. Her previous electoral success here came when she presented herself as a moderate Republican, appealing to independent voters. That might be tougher in a federal election in which she is being pushed to take positions on issues used to define candidates ideologically: for example, she said she opposed Mr. Obama’s call to impose a surtax on income over a million dollars to extend the payroll tax holiday. (At the same time, she has refused to sign a pledge promising never to support any tax increase.)….
… Ms. Lingle said those kinds of attacks would not work. “Anyone who tries to tar me with what’s happening at the national level will run up against the reality of my own record in Hawaii,” she said. “Every time politicians try to demonize me or someone else, it just shows they have no ideas of their own.” ….
The Democratic primary has already turned intense and seems likely to tie both candidates up. Mr. Case called Ms. Mazie a “candidate of the status quo” and noted his opposition to spending and tax policies she supports, arguing that she could not appeal to independent voters. Ms. Mazie scoffed at Mr. Case’s claim and pointed to her broad support in the state. (Democrats in Washington have also made no secret of their hope that she is the nominee.) “I don’t know what Ed even means that I am the status quo,” she said. “If people thought that, I wouldn’t be getting this kind of support.”
Ms. Lingle’s attempt to return to public office is being played out against the problems of Mr. Abercrombie, who succeeded her in office after term limits prevented her from running again. His first year has been marked by a disruptive procession of budget and personnel battles, and a personal style that many of his critics have called unnecessarily abrasive. “Abercrombie must regain public trust,” read the headline on a recent editorial in The Honolulu Star-Advertiser….
Mr. Pratt said the one thing here that might give Ms. Lingle hope, short of a meltdown in the Democratic primary, would be the governor. “How Abercrombie does will matter,” he said, “and affect the Senate race. And affect the future of the party.”
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