POSTED: 1:09 a.m. HST, May 20, 2012
The Cook Political Report on Thursday rated the Hawaii U.S. Senate race as a "tossup," one of the nine most competitive campaigns next year that could determine political control of the Senate.
The national newsletter that tracks political campaigns had previously rated Hawaii as "solid Democrat" but adjusted after former Gov. Linda Lingle entered the Republican primary this week.
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case are the Democrats who want to replace U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, who is not seeking another term.
"All in all, Lingle is a solid campaigner and fundraiser with a record of accomplishment on which to run," Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at The Cook Political Report, wrote in explaining the new rating. "She is the best candidate that Republicans could possibly hope for in a race in a solidly Democratic state. Whether she can overcome the challenges of running in a presidential year isn't yet clear, but she will make this a race that Democrats hadn't counted on having."
Senate Democrats and independents have a 53-to-47 majority over Republicans.
Seven of the nine Senate seats The Cook Political Report has rated as tossups are held by Democrats. Hawaii joins Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Virginia and Wisconsin as the most competitive Democratic seats. Massachusetts and Nevada are the most competitive Republican seats.
While such ratings might not be particularly relevant to Hawaii voters, they can be valuable currency in national political circles because they offer independent assessments of campaigns.
Lingle hopes to raise $8 million to $10 million for her campaign. The more competitive rating could help her build early fundraising momentum. Potential Republican donors on the mainland might be more likely to invest in Hawaii, a traditionally Democratic state, if it appears Lingle is viable.
"This prestigious political report published so early in the campaign acknowledges Linda Lingle's strong record of fiscal responsibility and economic development," retired Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, Lingle's campaign manager, said in an email. "I am confident the people of Hawaii will once again elect her to office, this time on a national level."
Case called the new rating "a blunt but accurate assessment of this crucial election."
"It should serve as a wake-up call to D.C. insiders and to all voters who want change in Washington but not the destructive far-right agenda Linda would strengthen," he said in an email. "It squarely presents all Democratic primary voters with the choice of who can best contest Linda's candidacy in the general and deliver change that will work for all."
Jadine Nielsen, finance chairwoman for the Hirono campaign, said polls have shown Lingle losing to Hirono by double digits.
"Apparently, some Washington political analysts have a little catching up to do regarding the decline in Lingle's popularity thanks to the super-disappointment of the Superferry, the Furlough Fridays that shortchanged our keiki and public schools, and Lingle's embrace of Sarah Palin over our island son Barack Obama," she said in an email. "We're confident the people of Hawaii haven't forgotten this Lingle litany of troubling decisions and disappointments."
In her campaigns for governor, Lingle was often able to sidestep questions about national Republican politics by focusing on Hawaii issues. She will be unable to distance herself as easily in a Senate campaign, although she already said this week that she will not always follow the national GOP.
"Linda Lingle has never run for office in a presidential year and never run for federal office," Matt Canter, a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in an email. "Now she must explain her party's attempts to dismantle Medicare, cut Social Security, and oppose President Obama on virtually everything. Already in this campaign, Lingle has been unwilling to answer a simple yes or no question about where she stands on the Republican budget."