With the congresswoman’s strong showing, she will be the first Asian-American woman in the U.S. Senate
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 7, 2012
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono claimed victory over former Gov. Linda Lingle Tuesday night, becoming the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate.
Hirono dominated the Republican Lingle 62 percent to 37 percent to succeed retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, her fellow Democrat.
Hirono is the first Asian-American woman, and only the second woman of color — after former U.S. Sen. Carol Moseley Braun, D-Ill. — elected to the Senate.
The overwhelming victory is validation for Hirono, 65, who had lost the governor’s race to Lingle in 2002, and who has had to contend with doubts about her political strength throughout her career as a state lawmaker, lieutenant governor and congresswoman.
“I’m grateful that so many people put their faith and trust in me and our congressional delegation to do what’s right for Hawaii and to work closely with our keiki o ka aina Barack Obama,” Hirono said at the Democrats’ celebration at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawaii.
Hirono said one of the first things she would focus on is supporting Obama’s jobs initiative. “There are still too many people who are out of work,” she said. “People in this country are struggling and I can relate to that.”
Lingle, 59, wished Hirono the best. “Nobody likes to come up short in an election like this, but we can hold our heads high, and I want every one of you to hold your head high because we ran a great race, based on issues, based on a vision for the future, and the public gets to decide in the end,” she told supporters outside of her campaign headquarters. “They’ve made their decision.”
The Hawaii-born Obama won re-election and captured 70 percent of the vote in the islands, similar to his performance in 2008. Democrats also kept control of the Senate, so Hirono’s victory fit within a national narrative.
Kristin Fukuda, who lives in Kalihi and is studying early childhood education at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu, said education influenced her vote. She said she disagreed with the teacher furloughs under Lingle that gave public school students the fewest classroom instruction days in the nation. Lingle, educators and the teachers union had agreed to furloughs to help reduce the state’s budget deficit.
“I thought it was a mistake because it took away from the kids’ education,” Fukuda said.
Andrea Wagner, a retiree who lives in Aina Haina, said she has become increasingly troubled with the politics of national Republicans. She said many of Lingle’s campaign donors, and interest groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored television advertising on behalf of Lingle in Hawaii, were also supporting national Republicans.
“This is one of the peculiar elections where I actually wound up voting party line, which kind of bemuses me because that’s not the way I vote,” Wagner said. “I look at each issue, each candidate, and assess them that way. To be in this position is — to say the least — a little disheartening.”
Wagner said Hirono’s record in Congress made sense to her, but “an equal driving force is what’s happening on the national political stage. I couldn’t vote Republican if you paid me to, and that’s what it comes down to right now.”
For Martha Boyd, a patient service coordinator who lives in Makiki, the election was also about helping Democrats retain the balance of power in the Senate.
“Because I looked at the big picture about, well, how many seats do we have, what’s going to happen with Daniel Inouye? I had to vote my ticket,” she said. “But if I voted my conscience, if I voted the way I really wanted to, I think Linda Lingle would have made a better senator.”
Neal Milner, a professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the fundamental challenge for Lingle was countering the state’s strong Democratic history. “There are many more people that identify themselves as Democrats than there are Republicans,” he said.
Milner said the “hole is so deep for the Republicans that they have to get a whole lot of Democratic votes, or even Democratic-leaning independent votes, and they’re really fighting a historical process that’s pretty stable.”
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 two rivals.
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 Obama and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, 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 preserve their majority in the Senate, spent more than $126,000 on behalf of Hirono. Several labor and women’s groups also dropped in with advertising worth six figures for the congresswoman.
U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., chairwoman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Hirono a “tireless advocate” for Hawaii. “I was proud to support Mazie from the beginning,” she said in a statement. “She ran a terrific campaign and will be a tireless advocate for Hawaii just like Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka. I know that Mazie and Senator Inouye will make a strong team for Hawaii in the United States Senate.”
Staff writers Gary Kubota and Michael Tsai contributed to this report.