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49 Days to Election Day: Hawaii

Unlike Alaska, there is a Senate race in Hawaii this year as long-time Democratic incumbent, Daniel Akaka, decided to retire. For the Democrats, the candidate will be current House member Mazie Hirono who won a contentious primary over Ed Case. On the Republican side will be former Governor Linda Lingle.

Lingle’s entire political career has been defined by surprising successful runs. In 1990, she surprisingly won the Maui County mayor’s race and was well accepted as she increased tourism when it was stagnating elsewhere in Hawaii. In 1998, she barely lost the election for Governor forcing a recount. A sober analysis of that race shows that the Democrats won based on a whisper campaign suggesting Lingle was a lesbian and that she would abolish Christmas as a state holiday because she is Jewish. She then assumed leadership of the GOP in Hawaii and after a series of reforms, increased the number of Republicans in the state legislature. Finally, considered a heavy underdog to, ironically, Mazie Hirono, she was elected Governor and maintained 70% approval ratings. Most importantly, over her first four years, she turned a $250 million budget deficit into a $730 million surplus. As a result, she cruised to an easy 2006 reelection.

Her opponent will be Mazie Hirono again who is a heavy favorite in this year’s election. Hirono is described as a far left member of Congress based on her sponsorship of legislation. But it must be remembered that Hawaii is a deeply blue state. Initially, I viewed this state thus: Lingle, although not winning, would draw precious Democratic dollars into Hawaii and a race they should be taking for granted. Given Lingle’s record as Governor- there is nothing really negative- and Hirono’s far leftist views, I would think now that Lingle actually has a shot at the Senate. Polling would indicate otherwise with Hirono showing consistent double digit leads. But, Lingle also trailed by large amounts in the polls in her first run for Governor late in the race and lost only after a recount. Can history repeat itself? In a presidential election year where the incumbent President was born in Hawaii, the odds may be too high for Lingle to overcome. Still, this race should be watched especially if Lingle paints Hirono as too far outside the mainstream, even for a liberal in a liberal state.

The 1st District will feature incumbent Democrat Colleen Hanabusa against former Republican House member Charles Djou. Unlike Hirono, Hanabusa is a more centrist Democrat while Djou is clearly a moderate Republican. Hence, ideologically they basically cancel one another out as neither can be painted as an extremist. When Djou was briefly in Congress, he was somewhat popular with his constituency, but was voted out nevertheless. This is actually a rematch of 2010 although the role of incumbent has switched hands. Hanabusa should win in a race that may prove more problematic for the Democrats than they think.

In the open 2nd District, due to Hirono’s run for the Senate, Tulsi Gabbard is the Democratic nominee having won a crowded primary. They are currently a member of the Honolulu City Council and a former state representative. In fact, at one time they held the honor of being the youngest elected state official in the country. On the Republican side is David Crowley. He is best known in Hawaii as the “9/11 Sign Guy” because he stands by the highway urging motorists to never forget 9/11. His campaign thus far has been a website, personal appearances, and, of course, his sign by the highway. He counts himself among the “working homeless” and lives in his van. He has also crusaded for the “smoker’s vote,” a campaign to not ban smoking in restaurants and bars in Hawaii. Did I mention he has yet to raise a dime? This is a safe seat for the Democrats whether a whack job was running for the GOP or not. Well, you can’t blame Hawaiian Republicans for not thinking outside the box when it comes to Congressional candidates.

There are two statewide questions on the ballot. The first would be for financial assistance for dam and reservoir owners to improve their safety. Six years ago, a dam breach caused the death of six people. The question would allow private lenders to pass their loans through the state to private owners thus rendering the loans tax-exempt. The state itself would not be on the hook for any money other than the loss of tax revenue. This seems exactly like a good private-public partnership to correct a definite problem. As one legislator stated, the breach six years ago illustrated the problem, but a survey of all dams since indicates that many are in need of repair.

The second question would allow the Chief Justice to appoint, on a temporary basis, retired judges to a court no higher than that when they retired due to age limits. As explained, it would create a bigger pool of potential jurists should emergencies arise and a current judge cannot do their duties. This would seem to be a happy compromise between those who demand retirement ages for judges and those who oppose them. It is also a tacit admission that age requirements do not necessarily affect qualifications and be an argument against these limits in the first place.

In terms of Presidential politics, Obama easily takes their four electoral votes.

In conclusion: Mazie Hirono will likely win in the Senate and Democrats will retain both House seats. Obama will take their 4 electoral votes.

Running count to date: Obama leads 4-3 in electoral votes. The Senate is 3-1 Democratic. The House is 2-1 Democratic.

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