With Democratic gubernatorial candidate Neil Abercrombie missing from the state’s political scene in recent days, Republican James “Duke” Aiona has rushed into the vacuum with several press conferences and a debate challenge.
At his latest news conference on Friday, Aiona said voters should take into account Abercrombie’s refusal to accept or negotiate on the six debates that Aiona proposed to hold before the Nov. 2 general election.
“Today was the date for our first debate or discussion regarding jobs and the economy,” the sitting lieutenant governor said. “I have yet to get a response from (Abercrombie.) As such, here we are. I guess you could say it’s in absentia.”
Aiona considers himself an underdog. And his apparent strategy since Saturday’s primary election is classically that of an underdog, said University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner.
“It’s important for him to get an image out that, ‘We’re already a well-oiled machine, we’re moving along, we have issues that we want to debate, we want to get started right away and the opposition is holding back,'” Milner said.
Aiona has held five public events or news conferences since Sunday, including a “talk story” event with Waianae voters on Tuesday. A similar gathering is set for Sunday in Mililani.
Meanwhile, the Republican Governors Association this week sent voters colorful, eight-page magazine-style brochures that cost $95,000 to produce and mail, according to a state Campaign Spending Commission report the group filed. The RGA also has spent more than $600,000 so far on pro-Aiona TV ads.
Abercrombie’s last public campaign event was Monday, at two Democratic unity events on the Big Island. Even his campaign’s frequent tweeting has considerably slowed in recent days.
Spokeswoman Laurie Au said Abercrombie, who won a surprisingly easy Sept. 18 primary election after a long, difficult campaign, has been resting in an undisclosed location on one of the neighbor islands. Campaign aides and supporters have been busily working in his absence.
He returns today, and his first public event is on Tuesday, she added.
As for debates, Au said the campaign has agreed to 15 debates or forums. Two of those are to be televised, including one hosted by KITV. She wasn’t certain whether Aiona has accepted any of those.
After more than a dozen primary campaign forums, voters “have a pretty clear idea of where Neal stands on many of the issues that Duke Aiona’s campaign has laid out,” Au said.
Debate formats should be worked out between campaign aides, and community and media organizations that want to sponsor them, not via press conferences or news releases, she added.
Aiona said he has assented to two debates or forums, but would not identify their sponsors because he wasn’t sure whether Abercrombie has agreed to them.
The lieutenant governor also repeatedly said he had not seen a debate proposal from KITV. Later Friday, KITV reported that Aiona’s campaign had called to tentatively accept the station’s debate plan.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.