Allies of Republican gubernatorial candidate James "Duke" Aiona are employing a phrase in television ads and brochures that has been used innocuously in different contexts over the years.
But the motto "rise and shine," a variant of which appears in biblical verse, may be having a more persuasive effect in Hawaii this election season — at a time when some religious leaders are urging support for candidates with conservative social positions.
"The advertisements seem to be signaling Duke Aiona’s religious conservatism without having to actually discuss his religious conservatism," said Michael Wagner, a political scientist at the University of Nebraska. "For people in Hawaii who are religious traditionalists, regardless of denomination, they might recognize the phrase and take that as a symbol that Aiona shares their conservative social values."
At least one Aiona supporter did.
"If you go to Sunday school or read your Bible, you should immediately know where the phrase comes from," said Jacquelyn Skaf, a North Shore volunteer for Aiona’s campaign. "When I hear that, I hear, ‘Take courage. We can win this election.’ "
But the Republican Governors Association, which began airing the first of the four commercials in August, did not contemplate the motto’s biblical connotations in devising the ads.
"That never came up," RGA spokesman Chris Schrimpf insisted.
"It was literally, the person making our ads sitting around, thinking, saying, ‘I’m thinking about Hawaii. I’m thinking about Duke. I’m thinking about the surf and the sun. What about rise and shine?"’ Schrimpf said. "That was all it was."
Garret Hashimoto, who heads Hawaii Christian Coalition, said the "rise and shine" motto did not strike him as a biblical reference.
"It would surprise me if (the RGA) would be sending out any of these biblical messages, quite frankly," Hashimoto said. "I don’t associate them with being Bible conservatives."
Only one of the four TV ads is still airing, Schrimpf said. All four, plus two radio ads, are on a website financed by the RGA, and the group recently mailed tens of thousands of eight-page "rise and shine Hawaii" brochures promoting Aiona, who faces Democrat Neil Abercrombie on Nov. 2.
The ads focus on Aiona’s energy, crime and education policies. They were created "because those issues that were actually talked about in the ads, we think are good issues," Schrimpf said. "There’s no subliminal messaging going on with our ads."
The "rise and shine" theme is only being used by the RGA in Hawaii, he added.
Aiona, the incumbent lieutenant governor, has made no secret of his strong religious convictions nor his conservative views on social issues, including opposition to same-sex civil unions, gay marriage and abortion. He has attended religious rallies and in 2004 told a prayer gathering that "Hawaii belongs to Jesus." He also has insisted his faith does not interfere with his duties as an elected official.
Aiona’s backers include a coalition of Catholic and evangelical Protestant leaders in Hawaii who have worked since mid-2009 to spur what they believe are hundreds of thousands of conservative residents to register and vote.
They are especially animated about civil unions, the subject of controversial legislation that GOP Gov. Linda Lingle vetoed in July.
Aiona considers himself an underdog to Abercrombie, who is backed by labor unions, a venture capital group, civil unions supporters and his primary election foe, ex-Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
The "rise and shine" phrase does have at least one secular connotation — the morning encouragement to get out of bed. But its religious references include Isaiah, a Randy Travis gospel album, George Frideric Handel’s "Messiah" and a popular children’s song.
In the King James version of the Bible, Isaiah 60:1 states: "Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee."
Robert Jones, who heads the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute in Washington, said the preceding chapters discuss what has gone wrong in biblical society.
Isaiah 60:1, though, essentially says, "’Look, if you set your ship right and you follow God and you follow all the commandments that you have before you, then all of these good things are going to happen,"’ Jones said.
If the RGA is invoking the imagery of a coming golden age following a dire recession, "this might be an interesting way to do it with some religious resonance." Jones added.
Catherine Wilson, a Villanova University political scientist who has studied the interplay of religion and politics, said the RGA also may be trying to reach secular voters with a theme of a new day in government.
"I don’t see it as a religious ad, but if the reality is that religious voters are part of (Aiona’s) constituency, then the ad could then be used for both secular and religious purposes," Wilson said.
Correction: Catherine Wilson is a political science professor at Villanova University. An earlier version of this story erroneously said she was at Vanderbilt University.