Sunday, August 05, 2012

Hawai'i U.S. Senate Race

Race of the Day

Hawai'i U.S. Senate

August 5, 2012
93 Days Until Election Day

Status: Democrat Open
2008 Presidential Result: Blue State (West)

Outlook: Likely Democrat

An open U.S. Senate contest out in Hawai'i is a pretty rare thing, but that is the scenario this year as Democrat Daniel Akaka is retiring after more than 20 years in the Senate. He was born just days apart from his homestate colleague Daniel Inouye but will not attempt to join him in staying in the U.S. Senate into his nineties.

The Aloha State is historically extremely favorable to Democrats and with native son Barack Obama seeking reelection, the tailwinds for the party should be even stronger, and all indications are that they will keep this Senate seat. However, the Republicans will be nominating about as strong of a candidate as they can recruit and some polling recently has shown the potential general election matchups to be very close. At the minimum, this race will not be enough of a slam dunk for Democrats to have to pour no resources into.

The Republican nominee will be Linda Lingle, a politically moderate Jewish woman who was born in the mainland but who on her second try, in 2002, became the state's first female Governor and the first member of the GOP to hold that office in decades. Despite the fact that most other elected officials in the state were Democrats, Lingle was a popular Governor for most of her two terms in office and was often talked about as a potential Senate hopeful when one of the state's two Democrat incumbents eventually decided to hang it up. By the end of her term though, Lingle's job approval numbers had started to wane.

While Lingle's nomination in this month's upcoming primary is a foregone conclusion, Democrats are still fighting it out in a hotly contested two-way contest. Congresswoman Mazie Hirono is facing the man she succeeded as the Representative of the 2nd District, former Congressman Ed Case. Hirono, who was born in Japan, has been a longtime fixture in Hawai'i politics, and was defeated as her party's nominee as Governor in 2002, by none other than Lingle, by five points, as Democrats lost a stranglehold on the state's Governorship. She was first elected to Congress in 2006.

Case has a history of facing Hirono as well, as in 2002, he was narrowly defeated by her for the party's Gubernatorial nomination, but a U.S. House seat soon opened up, and Case won that, as Hirono lost to Lingle in November. After four years in Congress, Case, who is white, surprised many by challenging Akaka in the Senate primary, running somewhat to the Senator's right and promising more youthful leadership for the state. This move greatly angered the state's party establishment who rallied behind Akaka,who also had the support of the state's highly sizeable Asian-American community and Case found himself out of office, as Hirono was elected in November to replace him.

The ramifications of Case's challenge to Akaka and the subtle bringing up of the age issue continues to have ramifications as Daniel Inoyue, most of the state's top Democrats, as well as those on Capitol Hill, and on the liberal blogosphere are now backing the more leftish Hirono. This makes her the front-runner to win her party's nomination later this month, but polling is showing Case well within striking distance, which is perhaps somewhat of a surprise. My hunch is that the state's power establishment will ulitmately bring in the votes to put Hirono over the top.

Then, we will be set for a general election between two candidates who sought the Governorship in the historic year of 2002 in the state. If Hirono is the Democrat nominee, she will have the chance to avenge her defeat, and will be favored to do so. Nonetheless, some polling earlier this summer showed Lingle perhaps tied with Hirono, while the more moderate Case had a larger lead over the Republican. The most recent polling though from late July seems to show both Democrats holding about the same sizeable lead over Lingle.

If Case were to somehow upset Hirono in the primary, there is a possibility that there could be some serious hard feelings that could work to the benefit of Lingle, and Hirono wins a tough primary, Lingle, who has of course defeated her before, might perhaps be able to make inroads with whatever exists of the state's moderate Indepdents and Democrats over a more ideological opponent. Right now, it looks like Lingle is expecting to face Hirono.

Lingle is about as popular and strong of a candidate as can be found in the Hawai'i GOP, but she likely had more political juice a few years back and running in a Presidential year with Obama on the ballot, even in an open race, might just be too steep of a climb. The most likely result of this election is that Hirono will become the first Asian-American woman to be elected to the Senate.

Lingle campaign link:

2012 U.S. Senate races predicted thus far: 5 D, 1 R
Predicted U.S. Senate Balance of Power thus far: 35 D, 38 R