Hawaii's primary election ended in victories for Democrat Mazie Hirono and Republican Linda Lingle just a week ago, but the U.S. Senate candidates are already engaged in a heated face-off to secure support for the November general election.
The two experienced politicians are vying for the rare open Senate seat created by the retirement of longtime Sen. Daniel Akaka. It will be the first time Hawaii elects a female U.S. senator.
The matchup will be somewhat of a rematch of Hawaii's 2002 gubernatorial election, in which Lingle won 51 percent of votes statewide to Hirono's 47 percent.
Lingle went on to serve two terms as governor, while Hirono was later elected to Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The candidates' campaigns have focused their attacks with two-and-a-half months to go until the Nov. 6 election.
Lingle's Senate campaign has criticized Hirono's record in Congress, claiming that she's ineffective and part of the status quo in Washington.
The campaign is airing TV commercials that claim that Hirono has had "zero" accomplishments.
"Do the math. Mazie Hirono sponsored 49 bills. Zero became law. Zero for working families, zero for seniors, zero for small businesses," the ad says. "That doesn't add up for Hawaii. Linda Lingle worked with both parties to stimulate job growth, promote quality education and balance our budget."
Meanwhile, Hirono's campaign has launched a daily blog with the theme "Extreme Makeover: Lingle Edition" to highlight "Lingle's attempted extreme makeover as a bipartisan moderate."
A recent post says: "Lingle clearly thinks that the people of Hawaii have short memories and wants to distract the people of Hawaii and the media from her record of being a proud member of the national Republican Party and everything they stand for."
Hirono says the national Republican Party is counting on Lingle's election to help the GOP gain control of the Senate.
"This election will set the stage for the direction our country is going to go into," Hirono said in an interview with The Maui News.
"Linda Lingle is the number 1 draft pick of the national Republican Party. Their goal is to see that Barack Obama does not get elected," Hirono said. "They only need four more Republicans in the Senate to take control. Regardless of how she portrays herself, she will be a vote to take over the Senate."
Lingle says control of the Senate could swing either way, and Republicans could be successful in taking over even without her win. In either scenario, Lingle says it would make sense for Hawaii to have a senator from both major parties.
"For us here in Hawaii, we need to have a foot in both camps in Washington, D.C., and not put all our eggs in one basket," Lingle told The Maui News. "It makes sense to have a person from each party, that way, whichever party is in the majority, we have someone there to look out for our best interests. Sending up two Democrats is not in our interest," she said, referring to Hirono and incumbent Sen. Daniel Inouye, who's not up for re-election for another four years.
Hirono said that under a Republican-controlled Senate, Inouye, who has been in Congress for more than five decades, could lose his influential chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, which has jurisdiction over all discretionary spending legislation in the Senate.
Hirono said her "resounding victory" over Ed Case in the Democratic primary election - she won by a margin of 57-40 percent - shows "there are a lot of people who understand what's at stake."
She performed best against Case - in terms of percentage of votes statewide - in the state House district the includes Kahului, Wailuku and Puunene, according to an analysis of precinct votes.
"Our next U.S. senator should share the same values as Hawaii," Hirono said. "Keeping Medicare and Social Security in place to support our kupuna, advocating for early-education initiatives for our keiki, and creating jobs for our families who are struggling."
Hirono says Lingle would help further a GOP agenda that will make permanent tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, repeal the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, privatize Medicare and Social Security, continue tax breaks for Big Oil and repeal Wall Street reforms, among other things.
"That's what a Linda Lingle win will mean," Hirono said. "She will help move that agenda."
Lingle disagrees, and says she has a track record of putting the interests of Hawaii before her career or her party's interests.
"I think my record is clear on Maui as mayor for eight years, and as governor of Hawaii for eight years," Lingle said. "People know me so well, and know that I don't put my career or party ahead of the public. They know I'll do what's right for the people. I've never put my party ahead of the public as Hirono does."
Hirono says a big difference between today's race and their matchup a decade ago is Lingle's "abysmal" record as governor.
"When she left the governorship, her numbers were low," Hirono said. "People remember Furlough Fridays, the Superferry fiasco and other things she didn't do. The U.S. Chamber (of Commerce) has had to spend $1 million so far to try to make her over and her ties to national Republicans."
If elected, both candidates agree that federal funding for Hawaii's infrastructure is a priority, including money for airports, harbors and highways.
Hirono says she's requested federal funding for Maui's bus system, roads and highways. She said she recently worked across party lines to sponsor an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act to revamp the funding formula for Hawaii's airports.
"We had been shortchanged for a long time, and now, Hawaii will get $6 million more a year. One of the first airports to benefit will be Kahului," she said.
Hirono said she's also helped secure $24 million in job training grants for the University of Hawaii's community college system, including UH-Maui College.
Lingle said one of her priorities in the Senate would be to create a new subcommittee on tourism, possibly under the Commerce Committee. She'd like to chair that subcommittee.
"Right now, there's no Senate committee with tourism even in its name," she said. "That's why the issue of visas and other things that would help the local economy haven't been addressed."
The candidates have agreed to their first debate set for Sept. 6 before the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce.
Lingle says she has already agreed to 20 debate opportunities, two of which Hirono has so far opted not to participate in, including last week's scheduled Maui Chamber of Commerce event.
Hirono's campaign said they doubted she "would get a fair shake at this so-called debate since the Maui Chamber of Commerce is made up of board members who have financially supported Lingle's campaigns dating back to 1998."
* Nanea Kalani can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.