Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

New Hawaiian Senate Twist: Lingle Takes the Lead

In Senate on July 13, 2012 at 2:15 pm

Linda Lingle

One of the most bizarre Senate races of this election cycle is occurring in the Aloha State of Hawaii, and it just produced another surprise. As both Democratic candidates, Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-HI-2) and former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2), continue to trade barbs while releasing internal campaign polling data showing them each leading the primary contest, we now find former Republican governor Linda Lingle taking a turn at promoting favorable new survey data.

According to her internal Voter/Consumer Research poll (July 8-10; 600 likely Hawaii voters), Lingle now holds a 45-40 percent lead over Rep. Hirono on the general election ballot test. Perhaps even more surprising is finding that she trails Mr. Case by a single point, 40-41 percent, if he were to become the Democratic nominee. It is conventional wisdom that Hirono is the strongest candidate in the race, that Case is an annoying “also-ran” and that, while she is certainly the best possible contender for the Republicans to field, Lingle can’t overcome the Obama Hawaii performance level (expected to be in the 70 percent range) and will ultimately lose the race.

Except for Hirono internal campaign polls being released and an early February Ward Research/Honolulu Star Telegram survey that staked the 2nd District Democrat congresswoman to a substantial lead, the available public research data fails to support the conventional wisdom.

Lingle has been quietly assembling a major campaign. As a former two-term governor, her ability to raise money is strong and she continues to accumulate more financial resources than both of her Democratic counterparts. With the new 2nd quarter disclosure filings just days away from becoming public, Lingle had already posted raising $3.12 million at the end of the first quarter compared to Hirono’s $2.33 million and Case’s $595,000. Though the filing deadline is July 15, the Lingle campaign has already announced it obtained over $1.1 million more in the 2nd quarter. Neither Rep. Hirono nor Mr. Case have yet to comment upon their own fundraising for the immediate past three months.

Lingle’s financial advantage will grow as the weeks wane down to the Hirono-Case Aug. 11 Democratic primary. Facing only frequent candidate John Carroll, the former governor doesn’t have to spend large sums to win her party’s nomination but the Democrats certainly do.

All three candidates have run statewide campaigns before. Before winning the governor’s office in 2002, Lingle came close to unseating then-governor Ben Cayetano four years earlier. Rep. Hirono lost to Lingle 47-51 percent in the 2002 Governor’s race after serving eight years as Cayetano’s lieutenant governor. Lingle racked up a 62 percent win percentage for re-election in 2006. Case, elected to the House at the end of 2002 when then-Rep. Patsy Mink (D) died, ran an ill-fated 2006 Democratic primary challenge to Sen. Daniel Akaka, the man who is now retiring. Case lost that primary 54-45 percent. Had he not forced the nomination fight with Akaka and simply stayed in the House, Mr. Case would most likely have been a shoo-in for this Senatorial election.

What should be a relatively easy Democratic open seat hold is turning out much differently. Expect this race to be competitive in the general election, and it will likely conclude in close fashion. Though the prediction model may be a difficult one considering the inconsistent polling results, it is clear that ex-governor Linda Lingle, true to form, is again becoming a very viable Republican general election candidate.

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