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Voter's choice

Gubernatorial and congressional races mark potential shifts in the balance of power

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 2:07 a.m. HST, Oct 17, 2010

Hawaii voters will decide in November whether they want to preserve some balance politically or whether they are comfortable with majority Democrats in control.

Former U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie will try to reclaim Washington Place for the majority party after eight years under Republican Gov. Linda Lingle.

Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona will try to keep the GOP's foothold and rebuild a party that has lost ground at the state Legislature.

ABERCROMBIE IS campaigning as an agent of change against the establishment who would bring accountability to issues such as public education and alternative energy.

Aiona is running as a fiscal and social conservative who will block new taxes and civil unions and guide the state toward economic recovery.

Brian Schatz, a former Democratic Party of Hawaii chairman and state lawmaker, is running for lieutenant governor with Abercrombie. State House Minority Leader Lynn Finnegan is Aiona's running mate.

U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, R-Hawaii, will attempt to hold the urban Honolulu 1st Congressional District seat he captured in a May special election to serve out the remainder of Abercrombie's term in Congress. Djou, the first Republican to represent the islands in Washington, D.C., in two decades, is facing a rematch with state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa in a race that could have national implications for the balance of power in Congress.

IF ABERCROMBIE and Hanabusa prevail, Democrats will control Washington Place and likely all four spots in the state's congressional delegation. U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, is heavily favored to win a ninth term against Republican Cam Cavasso, and U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, has the edge against Republican John Willoughby in the rural Oahu and neighbor island 2nd Congressional District.

Democrats are also expected to hold their overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate.

"It's really a question of whether a candidate from a party that has been a statistical minority can make some headway," Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said of Aiona in the governor's race. "That's going to be an important test."

Dan Boylan, a political analyst and retired University of Hawaii-West Oahu history professor, said the Republicans under Lingle have "had a platform for the past eight years and are hungry to hold on to it."

Democrats in the primary, he said, turned to a familiar face in Abercrombie, who has been in island politics for four decades. Voters preferred Democrats at Washington Place and at the Legislature for 40 years before Lingle was elected in 2002.

"I think a lot of really important questions will be answered," Boylan said of how the state breaks in the governor's race.

Both Milner and Boylan believe the congressional contest between Djou and Hanabusa could have national implications. Republicans believe they have the ability to take back the U.S. House from Democrats and significantly narrow the Democrats' majority in the U.S. Senate. Republican gains in Congress could help the GOP with momentum against President Barack Obama leading up to the presidential election in 2012.

A DJOU VICTORY in Obama's hometown congressional district would be symbolic for national Republicans and a sign that voters in the islands want some balance in the delegation. Hanabusa has argued that Djou does not reflect the views of the district's traditionally Democratic voters and would be an obstructionist to Obama.

State Democrats predict they will retain sizable majorities in the House and Senate, while Republicans are trying to double their presence. Democrats have a 45-to-6 majority in the House and 23-to-2 majority in the Senate.

Democrats have expanded their majorities under Lingle. Republicans have fielded candidates in more races this year but have acknowledged that it will likely take several election cycles to build their ranks to a competitive level at the Legislature.



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