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With a new poll showing a tie, candidates grasp for an edge

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With a new public poll indicating a dead heat in the race for governor, candidates Neil Abercrombie and James "Duke" Aiona faced off on public television last night in the latest of a series of public debates.

The candidates agreed for the most part on a governor-appointed Board of Education and disagreed on the viability of using federal dollars to stimulate the local economy.

Host Dan Boylan moderated the 45-minute exchange on PBS Hawaii’s "Insights" program.

While the debate itself yielded little in the way of new insight about Abercrombie and Aiona’s positions, a palpable testiness between them seemed to reflect the weight of a new Rasmussen Reports poll that showed Abercrombie leading Aiona by just two percentage points (49-47) in a survey of 500 likely voters.

The poll was conducted Wednesday by Pulse Opinion Research. It had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

A Star-Advertiser/Hawaii News Now poll conducted in August, before the primary election, showed Abercrombie with a 54-37 advantage over Aiona.

During last night’s debate an aggressive Aiona leaped on opportunities to portray Abercrombie’s 20 years in Congress as largely ineffective, while Abercrombie counterpunched with repeated references to "eight years of frustration" that state lawmakers faced under Gov. Linda Lingle and Aiona.

Amid several strategic concessions of agreement, the candidates did express mutual support for an appointed Board of Education, which Abercrombie said would help decentralize the education system and empower educators at the school level.

However, the two seemed intent on showing disagreement on virtually everything else.

While Abercrombie invoked Franklin Roosevelt in championing the use of federal money to help create jobs to re-energize the economy, Aiona leveraged an audience query to question the wisdom of borrowing money from a federal government that is already operating at a deficit.

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