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Hawaii's GOP must refocus strategy, message for viability

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 1:52 a.m. HST, Nov 9, 2010

"I know it is tough. Been there. We need to do better. We got outworked," said Willes Lee, former Hawaii GOP leader, in an e-mail to the party faithful.

As the local Republicans look at the GOP mainland victories, their own losses are becoming more apparent. Especially after winning and keeping the governor's office for two elections in a row, the general election blow-out is all the more shocking.

Today the recriminations must be clogging up the state Republican Party's in-basket. Party activist Eric Ryan launched a nasty-gram last week, demanding that all party leaders be dismissed.

But former GOP Chairman Lee has come out with a more temperate review of the race. He also was harsh.

"This crew lost the gov race, (congressional district) HI-1, a Senate seat, had trouble connecting with donors and failed to GOTV (get out the vote)," Lee wrote.

Part of the reason for the loss, according to Lee, was a tactical mistake by the GOP.

"(Lt. Gov. James "Duke") Aiona and the RGA (Republican Governors Association) never defined Abercrombie. Conversely, Abercrombie and (GOP Chairman Jonah) Kaauwai's letter to pastors defined Aiona," Lee wrote.

"The religious right is a valuable coalition with R's, but Kaauwai put it in charge of our message," Lee said.

Elections can turn on matters such as that. If you can bend the public's perception of your opponent, before he or she can fashion a public image, then you will enjoy the high ground for the entire campaign.

Just like in the primary when Gov.-elect Abercrombie defined former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann as someone who would do anything to win, in the race against Aiona, Abercrombie waited for Aiona to make a big mistake and then pounced.

But as Lee points out, Aiona held a news conference to complain that Abercrombie was spreading negative information when a campaign aide repeated charges that Aiona was part of an intolerant religious organization.

"Had Aiona not brought attention to the video with a press conference, it would probably have died," Lee writes.

Lee, who said he has no interest in becoming party chairman again, said the local faith-based community is conservative and will help Republicans on faith issues such as gay marriage or abortion, but on other issues "it is as split as any in the community."

Lee adds that Abercrombie then went on to paint Aiona as either responsible for the state's poor condition or "admit that you haven't done anything the past eight years."

Either way Aiona was bound to lose. Now Aiona and Gov. Linda Lingle will have to help the faltering Hawaii GOP define itself in a way that points to some sort of viability.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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