The GOP candidate for Senate would likely alienate voters if she criticizes the isle-born president
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Aug 15, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 11:27 a.m. HST, Aug 15, 2012
Former Gov. Linda Lingle, who faces political risks in criticizing Hawaii-born President Barack Obama, has turned to a riper target in her Republican campaign for U.S. Senate: Congress.
Lingle has derisively labeled U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, her Democratic opponent, as one of the "12 percenters," a reference to the national job approval rating for Congress in a July poll by CBS News and The . Gallup released a new survey on Tuesday that put the job approval rating for Congress at 10 percent, tying the record low Gallup found in February.
Railing against a dysfunctional Congress may help Lingle appeal to independents and to moderate Democrats, the groups she needs to draw away from Hirono in November. The strategy has far less risk in Hawaii than blaming the political gridlock in Washington on Obama, who had a 63 percent job approval rating in the islands during the first six months of the year, according to Gallup, higher than any other state and second only to the District of Columbia.
The downside is that while most voters are disappointed with Congress, they generally like their own representative. Hirono had a 59 percent favorability rating in the latest Hawaii Poll in July, while Lingle was at 49 percent. A potentially greater risk, however, is that Republicans have held the U.S. House for the past two years, and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney's choice for vice president — has been the architect of the GOP budget.
"I think this is probably the most reasonable strategy to take, considering that Obama is going to carry this state by a hefty margin," said Todd Belt, an associate professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Hilo. "So what she has to do is she has to convince Obama voters to vote for her."
Belt said the danger for Lingle is if voters see the Republicans in Congress as more responsible for the dysfunction. Hirono has said that a vote for Lingle is a vote for a Republican Senate that would combine with the majority in the House to roll back benefits for seniors, women and the poor and obstruct Obama if he is re-elected.
Lingle unveiled her "12 percenters" theme against Congress on Sunday and called for four reforms: require Congress to work five days a week, three weeks a month; withhold lawmaker pay if Congress fails to pass a federal budget; reduce the operating budget of Congress and the White House by 10 percent; and freeze lawmaker pay for three years.
Lingle has previously described national debates about the repeal of the federal health care reform law and a millionaire's tax as overly simplistic election-year gimmicks, but she defended her congressional reform proposals that, while having populist appeal, are relatively cosmetic from a budget perspective.
Lingle's vulnerability remains her links to national Republicans whose attacks on Obama and budget policies alienate many Democrats in Hawaii. Ryan's selection as the GOP's vice presidential candidate puts his proposals to change Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid into the national debate.
Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee, has previously called for privatizing Social Security, but he left the option out of his most recent budget draft. His budget would eventually raise the eligibility age for Medicare and offer seniors a premium payment to buy private insurance as an option to the traditional government plan. He would cut expansion of federal Medicaid spending by repealing the new health care law and would transfer the program as block grants to states.
"I've never met Paul Ryan before, but I feel he deserves some credit for actually proposing a real budget. That's something the American people expect of their elected leaders," Lingle said. "And while I don't agree with the speed with which he wants to have reductions in spending in his budget, I think he deserves credit for actually proposing a real budget for the country."
Hirono has made protecting Social Security and Medicare a focus of her campaign. Lingle, who has said she is open to raising the retirement age for Social Security for younger workers and increasing premiums for higher-income seniors in Medicare, has also vowed to protect the entitlement programs.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee on Tuesday used the 77th anniversary of Social Security to tie Lingle to Romney and Ryan.
"Whether it's essentially ending Medicare or sending our Social Security checks to Wall Street, Linda Lingle and her new running mates would help the wealthiest Americans get richer, while devastating Hawaii seniors and middle-class families," Matt Canter, a DSCC spokesman, said in a statement.