Around the US in 50 Days: Hawaii

In Presidential politics, there is no doubt that Barack Obama, who lays claim to Hawaii asa one of his homes, will garner the state’s four electoral votes. The state is deeply blue as evidenced by their recent voting behaviors in Presidential elections and the fact their entire Congressional delegation is Democratic, along with their Governor.
The Senate race will be spotlighted this year since long time incumbent Democratic Senator Daniel Akaka announced his intention to retire in 2012. Originally, this opened a path for current 2nd District Representative Mazie Hirono to ascend to the Senate. Additionally, that district should elect a Democratic replacement, the theory went. However, before Hirono can celebrate her coronation, she must go through a primary with a serious challenger and a general election with a serious challenger. In the former case, she must first face former Representative Ed Case in the primary and he shows no signs of backing off. Admittedly, Hirono has deep products to fight off this challenge. She was basically recruited by the national party to run for this seat. Still, Case can ding Hirono along the way and make her dig into those deep pockets prior to a general election campaign and Hawaii is not a cheap market. And to compound this supposed cake walk into the Senate is the fact that the Republican Party has recruited a viable challenger. Most likely, Hirono will win the nomination. Hawaii is a small state and like most small states, Hirono has name recognition outside her district, as does Case. However, Hirono has the power of incumbency and the backing of her party.
On the GOP side, former Congressman Charles Djou declined the temptation to run for the Senate seat as did former Lt. Governor “Duke” Aiona. Initially that left former state Senator and the 2010 loser in the Governor’s race, James Carroll, as the only Republican in the race. Again, because of the small state status and the fact he ran for a statewide office only two years ago, he does not have to introduce himself to anyone and enjoys name recognition in the state and in Republican circles. However, as many polls indicate, he would lose to Hirono in a landslide and even lose to Ed Case in a general election. But all that has changed since former Governor and popular Linda Lingle announced she would run for this Senate seat. Initial polling indicates that she would defeat Ed Case and lose by an average of 8 points to Hirono, but that is clearly within striking distance for a Republican in Hawaii.
Although the recruitment of Lingle is a coup for the GOP and makes the race more interesting than what it should be, the most likely scenario has Mazie Hirono as the next Senator for Hawaii. However, a Lingle-Hirono race is certainly preferable to a Hirono-Carroll match up. Since Hirono announced her candidacy, the Democratic Party has taken the seat for granted. Lingle, because of her name recognition and popularity, changes the overall dynamics of the Senate races. Despite their optimistic spin on the upcoming elections, know they have a good chance to lose their majority in the Senate, especially now that Ben Nelson announced his intentions. They cannot afford to lose a seat in Hawaii considering their vulnerabilities elsewhere in states like Wisconsin, North Dakota, and Nebraska. Hence, Lingle’s entry into the race forces the Democratic Party to pay closer attention to a race they took for granted and to shift resources into Hawaii to play defense. In and of itself, that represents a subtle victory for the Republican Party.
The only thing that would prevent this chain of events would be if the GOP shoots themselves in the foot. Unlike other states, there is no great Tea Party presence in the state, nor is there a great anti-incumbent sentiment evident. Hence, a race to the right between Lingle and Carroll is unlikely.
In the 1st District, incumbent Colleen Hanabusa, who defeated Charles Djou in 2010, is seeking re-election. In 2012, he will again face off against her. Djou won a special election to replace Neil Abercrombie who resigned his seat to run for Governor. In a highly contentious campaign where Ed Case ran as an independent candidate against Djou and Hanabusa, Djou slipped in with less than 50% of the vote. The decision by Case to run as an independent did not sit well with the Democratic establishment and definitely cost them a seat in the House. In 2010, national Republicans essentially conceded this seat and ones in Louisiana and Delaware. Still, despite being left to his own devices by the GOP, Djou ran a surprisingly close race for a Republican in Hawaii and lost to Hanabusa by only 6 points. In fact, his performance in Congress was generally lauded. Like Lingle in the Senate race, Djou’s candidacy makes the Democrats shift resources to a race where they should be taking for granted.
Hirono’s retirement from her 2nd District seat has opened up additional opportunity in Hawaii. Thus far, five potential Democrats have announced their candidacy. Most interesting in the news is not who is running but who has taken a pass on a run at the seat, most notably Tammy Duckworth, considered the best viable Democratic candidate. On the Republican side, the scene is less dynamic although no one has officially announced yet. Most likely,Jonah Kaauwai, the former head of the Hawaii GOP, would be the most likely candidate. His connections and name recognition should help him. That places him with a slight advantage, especially if the fight for the Democratic nomination becomes a free-for-all.
A lot has to be sorted out yet in all the races. Realistically, no one in the GOP should be looking to make any gains here as Hawaii remains one of the bluest states in the nation. While Democrats will have to play defense here to a greater degree than they have in the past, it would be diificult for Lingle, Djou, or Kaauwai to win. However, by refocusing Democratic resources to play defense where they really don’t want to, even on a limited basis, it translates into Republican gains or consolidations elsewhere in the continental United States. At this point, would have to predict a Democratic sweep in Hawaii, although all the races bear watching. The fact one can say that about elections in Hawaii in 2012 speaks volumes about the state of politics today.
Next: Alaska