Rep. Mazie Hirono’s (D., Hawaii) campaign to replace retiring Democratic U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka is at risk because of a tough primary challenge and the perception among voters that Hirono is too well coached by national Democratic Party insiders and longtime Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye, according to observers of Hawaiian politics.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce released a poll on July 18 showing former governor and Republican Senate candidate Linda Lingle with a 47 to 41 percent lead over Hirono among likely Hawaii voters. Previous polls had shown a Hirono lead.
The Chamber of Commerce endorsed Lingle on July 17, calling her a “steadfast supporter of Maui’s local economy.”
Lingle outraised Hirono $1.1 million to $941,000 during the second quarter of 2012 and has raised $4.2 million through the month of June, which insiders say is “unprecedented” for a Republican in Hawaii.
Hirono’s campaign has been damaged by former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who she will face in the August 11 primary and who has gained a surprising amount of grassroots support by painting Hirono as an out-of-touch surrogate for national Democratic Party interests.
“Hirono was the presumptive favorite for quite some time, so there has not been a lot of grassroots effort on the part of her campaign,” Hawaii Republican Party executive director Nacia Blom told the Free Beacon.
“Case has been able to gain some traction on a grassroots level, definitely,” Blom said. “Hirono gets a lot more support from the national Democratic Party. Mazie Hirono has allowed Ed Case to activate the grassroots coalition and gain traction operating that way.”
“A lot of Republicans are actually talking about crossing over in the Democratic primary to vote for Ed Case, or voting for Ed Case in the general election if he beats Hirono. Case is actually considered somewhat of a conservative in his fiscal outlook,” Hawaii Reporter editor Malia Zimmerman told the Free Beacon.
“I have contact with a lot of Democratic operatives and folks in those circles. A lot of them are very disappointed by the race [Hirono] has been running,” political consultant and former Hawaii Republican Party official Dylan Nonaka told the Free Beacon.
“Even the Democrats know now that she's a very weak candidate. We might be looking at a repeat of when Lingle beat Hirono in the governor’s race,” Nonaka said.
Lingle defeated Hirono 52 percent to 47 percent in the 2002 gubernatorial election.
“She's just not inspiring people. She’s not a personable person. Hawaii politics is all about personality, and (Hirono) has been avoiding talking about issues, avoiding debates. Hirono is a weak communicator,” Nonaka said.
Hirono has alienated voters by relying too much on her professional handlers, observers believe.
Hirono tapped political consultant and federal judgeship prospect Andy Winer as “senior adviser” for her campaign. Winer directed President Obama’s campaign in Hawaii in 2008 and served in the Obama administration before returning to Hawaii to manage Hirono.
“He’s Senator Inouye’s guy,” Zimmerman said. “And a lot of Democrats are starting to bristle at the way Senator Inouye endorses candidates before the primary.”
Inouye “has all but endorsed Rep. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) in her Senate primary against former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii),” the Hill reported in October 2011.
“The Democratic primary can be seen as a referendum on Senator Inouye,” Zimmerman said.
The strenuous Democratic primary campaign has reportedly distracted Hirono from her duties as a U.S. congresswoman.
Hirono has missed seven U.S. House votes in recent months in order to focus on her Democratic primary fundraising efforts, according to the Hawaii Reporter.
Hirono’s spokesperson told a reporter that the congresswoman was busy on the campaign trail at the time of the April 27 vote, according to a fundraising email by Lingle campaign manager Robert Lee.
“I do find it objectionable that she isn't upholding her sworn duty to discuss and vote on a bill of such importance,” Lee wrote.
Hirono also missed votes pertaining to hydropower generation, cyber-threat intelligence, legislative branch appropriations, and requirements for military veterans to receive federal licenses.
Hirono’s troubled campaign has boosted the enthusiasm of Hawaii Republicans, in spite of the challenges of electing a Republican candidate in President Obama’s home state.
“We have cautious optimism now,” said state GOP director Blom.