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Hirono defeats Lingle in U.S. Senate race

By Star-Advertiser & Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:44 p.m. HST, Nov 6, 2012

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono swept to a triumphant victory over former Gov. Linda Lingle tonight in the campaign for U.S. Senate.

Hirono, a Democrat, led Lingle, a Republican, 63 percent to 35.5 percent after early votes were counted in the race to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. The Associated Press and CNN called the election for the Democrat shortly after the polls were scheduled to close at 6 p.m. but while some voters were still waiting in lines to cast ballots. 

Hirono, 65, is the first Asian-American woman elected to the Senate.

The Hawaii Poll measured Hirono with a double-digit lead over Lingle in May 2011, a gap that remained stable throughout a campaign that featured five debates and more than $10 million in fundraising by the candidates.

Hirono’s campaign themes, that she would protect Social Security and Medicare, favor higher taxes on the wealthy, and invest in early childhood education and alternative energy, were aligned with core Democratic values. She framed a vote for Lingle, despite the former governor’s claims of bipartisanship, as a vote for more conservative national Republicans and against Hawaii-born President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Not only did Lingle have to run against Obama, Inouye, and the state’s Democratic tradition, she had to do so from a weaker position than during her successful campaigns for governor. Lingle’s job approval ratings, battered from the budget cuts and other fallout of the recession, were low when she left office in 2010. The Hawaii Poll found that Lingle’s favorable rating among voters never broke 50 percent during the campaign.

Lingle raised more than $5.4 million overall, considerably less than the $8 million to $10 million she initially predicted. Hirono, who raised more than $5.1 million, brought in more money than Lingle since the August primary.

Lopsided poll results kept Hawaii mostly off the Senate battleground map, but mainland interest groups did do some significant outreach in the islands.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce spent more than $1.2 million in advertising on behalf of Lingle. Fund for Freedom Committee, a mainland super PAC tied to the Republican Governors Association, spent about $335,000 for Lingle. Citizens for a Working America, another mainland super PAC tied to Republicans, produced an eight-page booklet for Lingle.

Majority PAC, a mainland super PAC helping Democrats, spent more than $126,000 on behalf of Hirono. Several labor and women’s groups also dropped advertising for the congresswoman worth six figures.

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