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Hirono leads Lingle in U.S. Senate race by 22-point margin

By Derrick DePledge

LAST UPDATED: 12:16 p.m. HST, Oct 30, 2012

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono has a double-digit cushion over former Gov. Linda Lingle for U.S. Senate, a gap that has remained constant since the Hawaii Poll began tracking the campaign in May 2011.

The polling suggests that many voters made their choice soon after Hirono, a Demo­crat, and Lingle, a Republican, were mentioned as potential candidates to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. Millions of dollars spent on advertising, plus five debates and dozens of personal appearances across the state have apparently not changed the trajectory.

Hirono leads Lingle 57 percent to 35 percent, a 22-point gap that is identical to a Hawaii Poll taken in May 2011. Hirono was ahead of Lingle by 20 points in February and 19 points in July.

Political analysts had predicted that the gap would likely shrink after the August primary, but they might have underestimated Lingle's hurdle. The former governor, who left office two years ago with low job approval ratings, has been unable to separate herself from the more conservative national Republicans who want to take control of the Senate and defeat Hawaii-born President Barack Obama.

Obama's job approval rating in Hawaii is 68 percent, the poll shows.

Hirono has consistently undermined Lingle's bipartisan campaign theme by reminding voters how Lingle's positions on economic policy, health care reform and Medicare are similar to those of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican presidential and vice presidential candidates. She has also warned that a Republican takeover of the Senate would cost U.S. Sen. Daniel Ino­uye, D-Hawaii, the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

"I think people made up their minds very early," said Rebecca Ward, president of Ward Research, which conducted the poll for the Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now. "And I don't really think anything has changed for Lingle since she left office. I think the baggage of that last year, with the furloughs and Superferry — particularly the furloughs — she just hasn't been able to return to the kind of candidate she was in 2002."

The poll found that just 44 percent of voters interviewed had a favorable opinion of Lingle, the lowest of any of the major politicians measured. Lingle's favorability rating has not broken 50 percent in any of the four surveys taken since May 2011. Hirono's favorability rating was 62 percent.

Lingle has tried to appeal to voters who elected her governor and Maui mayor with ads that say "You know me," and that stress her independence. But while such ads might counter the idea that she is in step with national Republicans, they do not move people who were disappointed with her as chief executive.

"A lot of us certainly saw that and said, ‘Oh, yes, we do know you,'" said Elizabeth Keala Han, a retired county worker who lives in Kula, Maui, and voted for Hirono.

Hayley Holcomb, who works as a housekeeper in Kapaa, Kauai, also supports Hirono. "I just feel like Mazie is going to do a better job and she is more about the little people," she said. "I just don't believe Lingle."

Alexander Marrack, a retired attorney who lives on Oahu near Koko Head, prefers Lingle. "She's a reasonable person," he said. "I think Hirono is just a tool of the Demo­cratic Party and she'll do whatever Sen. Ino­uye says."

The Hawaii Poll was taken from Oct. 15 through 22 among 786 likely voters statewide.

The results followed the same pattern as previous surveys: The candidates were closer on Oahu than on the neighbor islands, where Hirono dominates. Hirono was particularly strong among women, union households, Japa­nese-Americans and Hawaiians.

Lingle has the advantage among Republicans and independents, was split with Hirono among whites but trails in every other demo­graphic.

Hirono called the poll results a "reaffirmation that the people of Hawaii see a clear choice in this election."

"Throughout this campaign I've committed myself to represent Hawaii's values. To work with President Obama and Sen. Ino­uye to get things done for Hawaii and move our country forward," the congresswoman said in a statement.

"Despite the increasingly negative and desperate ads from mainland groups, it is reaffirming to hear that Hawaii voters want our next U.S. senator to fight to protect Social Security and Medicare, create educational opportunities for our kids, and get to work creating jobs."

Retired Maj. Gen. Robert G.F. Lee, Lingle's campaign manager, attacked the Hawaii Poll as "another skewed poll from Ward Research whose methodology is wildly out of step with that of real political polling firms."

The Lingle campaign provided a memo from its pollster, Voter/Consumer Research of Washington, D.C., that contends the distribution in the Hawaii Poll is too Demo­cratic. Sixty percent of respondents in the Hawaii Poll said they usually vote for Demo­crats, while exit polls taken after previous elections put the number of Demo­crats at 40 percent to 45 percent of voters.

Ward has explained that the partisan distribution in the Hawaii Poll mirrors voting patterns in a state that has overwhelmingly favored Demo­crats. The poll asks voters which party they usually vote with, not whether they consider themselves Demo­crats, so a share of the 60 percent who said they usually vote Demo­cratic would likely describe themselves in other surveys as independents.

"Based on incredibly strong debates by Gov. Lingle, our most recent tracking poll shows this race is a statistical dead heat," Lee said. "During the debates, the voters — even those who are unlikely Lingle supporters — were able to see that Mazie Hirono does not have the leadership history and qualifications to be an effective U.S. senator.

"We believe in Linda Lingle, we believe in her record of leadership, and we believe in our plan to win this election. Nothing in this wacky Ward Research poll changes a single thing we are doing or planning to do."

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