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Hirono beats Case

The Democrat and Republican Linda Lingle are headed for a rematch after their big wins

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 1:38 a.m. HST, Aug 12, 2012

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono scored a decisive victory over former U.S. Rep. Ed Case in the Demo­cratic primary for U.S. Senate on Saturday night and pivoted toward a November showdown with former Gov. Linda Lingle.

Hirono held a 57 percent to 41 percent gap over Case after most votes were counted in the primary to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. Lingle glided to victory in her Republican primary against former state lawmaker and attorney John Carroll.

The November general election will be a rematch of the 2002 governor's race, when Lingle defeated Hirono after Hirono had ousted Case in the primary.

Hirono said Hawaii needs a senator "who shares our values."

Hirono, 64, said a Republican Senate could lead to the repeal of the federal health care reform law and the permanent extension of President George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. She also said that Social Security and Medicare would be at greater risk.

"Regardless of what we think about Linda Lingle and her ‘extreme makeover' efforts, she's going to be one vote closer for Republican control of the U.S. Senate," she said. "That would be bad for seniors, for women, for working people of this country.

"And I'm going to fight that agenda every chance I get."

Lingle, 59, has campaigned on a bipartisan message intended for the moderate Demo­crats and independents she will need on her side to offset the state's Demo­cratic history.

"I think now that the primary is over, the people of Hawaii are going to have a clear choice between an experienced leader who has made tough decisions and worked in a bipartisan fashion and, in her case, a hyperpartisan Washington, D.C., insider with no record of accomplishment, with one of the most one-sided voting records in the United States Congress," Lingle said.

"I think the choice is very clear."

Lingle said Hirono would try to make the election about Hawaii-born President Barack Obama. "I know that Mazie has wanted to make this election about who the president is, and she stresses that," she said. "But I think the people of Hawaii worry about a rubber-stamp senator. I think they want someone more independent. And I won't be a rubber stamp for anybody, whether it's Barack Obama or Mitt Romney."

In the primary, the liberal Hirono drew emphatic support from traditional Demo­crats and union workers, while Case sought to attract independents and Republicans, a difficult calculation in a primary.

"I'm not going to blame it on anything," said Case, 59, who conceded defeat at his campaign headquarters at Ward Warehouse. "We put a case to the voters of what we felt we should do with our state and with our country. I'm not going to pin it off on party opposition or fundraising or anything like that.

"We ran a campaign that got our message to the voters. And if the voters want to go with a different direction, that's obviously their choice."

The Hawaii Senate race could be one of several nationally that determine the balance of political power in the Senate after the November elections. Senate Demo­crats and independents hold a 53-to-47 edge over Republicans.

Hawaii Democrats have said that preserving a Demo­cratic Senate is important to the islands because U.S. Sen. Daniel Ino­uye, D-Hawaii, would retain his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee and his title of Senate president pro tempore. Obama, if he is re-elected in November, would also benefit if Demo­crats keep control.

"Mazie winning is going to be very important to Democrats maintaining a majority in the Senate," Inouye said. "She has demonstrated that she knows how to work with others and that she understands how to get legislation passed. She knows Washington and she has a lot of friends there."

But Lingle has said that Hawaii would be in a better position if the state has a senator in both camps, especially if Republicans capture the Senate and Romney, the former Republican governor of Massachusetts, defeats Obama.

Many voters interviewed across the state Saturday said they made up their minds early in the primary.

"I just liked the things that she stood for," Brenda Mathews, who lives on Maui and is a telecommuter for a company in Illinois, said of Hirono.

Robert Sims, a retired postal worker who lives in Waikiki, also preferred Hirono.

"She's been well-established. She's always been one that is working toward the betterment of the people here as well as others," he said. "And she's not afraid to get into things."

Stephen Correa, a retired state custodian who lives on Hawaii island, said he chose Hirono in part because of Case's decision six years ago to challenge Akaka in the primary. "It's controversy, you know," he said.

The Hawaii Poll had consistently shown Hirono with a double-digit lead in the primary, findings that tracked the Hirono campaign's internal polling. But internal surveys taken for Case, Lingle and by the online news service Civil Beat had the primary essentially tied.

Hirono had the early blessing of establishment Demo­crats in Hawaii and Washington, D.C., and most of the state's labor, environmental and progressive interest groups. The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly was the only significant labor group to endorse Case.

Hirono raised more than $3.5 million for her campaign. Case struggled to raise money and brought in more than $800,000, including a $50,000 loan in the final days before the primary to follow the $25,000 he had lent his campaign earlier. Lingle raised more than $4.4 million.

National interests were expected to target Hawaii, but only one, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — which spent $750,000 on advertising on Lingle's behalf — got heavily involved in the primary. The UHPA spent more than $250,000 on advertising on behalf of Case. Working Families for Hawaii, a labor group, spent more than $69,000 on radio ads for Hirono and against Case.

Hirono's advisers, confident in their internal polls, mapped a primary strategy intended to minimize interaction with Case and position Hirono for another test against Lingle. Hirono agreed to five debates — and only one, belatedly, on statewide commercial television — limiting Case's ability to change the narrative.

The Hirono campaign also went dark on television advertising between February and July. When the congresswoman finally launched her ads last month, the themes — her immigrant background, alternative energy, education, bipartisanship, protecting Social Security and Medicare — were aimed at the Demo­cratic base and at Lingle, not at Case.

Hirono's advisers acknowledged that the strategy was a calculated risk. But along with preparing for what could be a difficult campaign against Lingle, the strategy sidestepped an unnecessarily bloody fight with Case that could have alienated his moderate and independent base. In 2002, after Hirono narrowly defeated Case in the primary for governor, nearly half of Case's voters indicated in the Hawaii Poll that they would vote for Lingle.

Hirono will need many of Case's voters against Lingle in November.

Case said he did not know where his voters would go. "They're going to have to figure that out themselves," he said.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie urged Democrats to come together behind Hirono and also recognize the potential impact of a Lingle victory on Inouye and Obama. A decade ago, he said, "Linda Lingle did a great job of moving her core to vote and we did not do as good a job. What you will see this election is the exact opposite."

Reporters Michael Tsai and June Watanabe contributed to this report.

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