The Campaign Spot

A Closer Look at a Potential GOP Contender in Hawaii

Over in the comments under the news that Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii is retiring, there’s a bit of skepticism about my assessment that “odds for [former Gov. Linda] Lingle against a standard-issue Democrat would be somewhere close to 50-50.”

(Note that “somewhere close to 50-50″ is not “50-50.” She could still be a slight underdog.)

It’s worth noting, a Sen. Linda Lingle would not leave conservatives cheering with great frequency.

She supports parental-consent laws and a partial-birth abortion ban, but is otherwise pro-choice. In her pre-political years, she worked for the Teamsters and hotel workers’ unions. She supports a bill giving greater sovereignty and authority to Native Hawaiians that the editors of NR call “Aloha Segregation.” The Cato Institute gave her a “C” on fiscal policy. She has failed to veto several tax increases.

On the other hand, she is a friend of Sarah Palin and gave one of the introductory speeches for Palin. She vetoed a civil-unions bill. She is staunchly pro-Israel and is one of the few Jewish Republican governors. She has vetoed raises for state workers (the vetos were overriden) and she opposed price controls for gasoline within the state. She has pushed for tax cuts and had the guts to do what many governors might consider unthinkable: eliminated a free government-run universal health program for children, calling it fiscally unsustainable and pointing out that families who didn’t need government aid were taking their kids off their private plans and putting them under the state-run one. Sean Hannity spotlighted her fight.

Finally, no other Republican in her state has demonstrated her ability to connect with and appeal to the Hawaiian electorate. Her first victory to an executive office, her election in 1990 as Maui County mayor over the then–state house speaker, is characterized as one of the greatest political upsets in state history. She served two terms, then made an underdog bid against incumbent Democratic governor Benjamin Cayetano; she lost the closest election in state history, by less than 2 percent. She served a stint running the state party, then ran for governor again in 2002, capping off Republicans’ great year by becoming the first GOP governor of Hawaii since 1962 and the first woman to ever win the office. Her reelection was suprisingly uncompetitive, winning by the largest margin in state history, 63 percent to 35 percent. (And this occurred in 2006, an otherwise miserable year for the GOP.)

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