Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday she will take six months off before deciding whether to run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
The Republican governor, who leaves office Dec. 6 after two four-year terms, said she would then give serious consideration to a campaign against U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. She also has said she would consider a role in national GOP politics.
"I’m not going to think about it for six months," she said. "I’ve been in public life for 30 years. I think it’s important for anyone who has lived this kind of a public life and intense life where they are making decisions every day, to have time for reflection, more time for reading, more time to create a context for Hawaii’s future.
"Whatever I do, it will be something that will make life better. That’s my mission myself. But I just think it’s important to take some time and to reflect."
Republicans captured control of the U.S. House in this month’s elections and have aspirations to take the U.S. Senate in two years. National Republicans would likely treat Lingle as a worthy challenger to Akaka and help her with fundraising and with independent expenditures if she enters the race.
Lingle, 57, raised a record $6 million in her re-election campaign in 2006. She likely would need to raise between $3 million and $6 million to take on Akaka, who would be expected to get national help from Democrats and labor unions.
Akaka, 86, has said he intends to campaign for a fifth six-year term. He has said he considers Lingle a friend and wishes her well whatever she decides.
Despite Lingle’s low job approval rating as she leaves office, which many political analysts attribute to teacher furloughs and state budget cuts during the recession, many Democrats believe she could be formidable.
Republicans are rising nationally, while Democrats in Hawaii have taken back Washington Place and again occupy all four spots in the state’s congressional delegation. But the political climate can change rapidly.
Lingle’s fortunes may be influenced by how voters respond to Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie’s performance after two years and whether President Barack Obama remains overwhelmingly popular in the state where he was born.
"I think she will be a formidable opponent, not because she did a great job as governor, because I don’t think she did a good job as governor," said Alex Santiago, a former Democratic Party of Hawaii chairman and social-services advocate who disagreed with Lingle on budget cuts to state programs. "I think that the amount of money that will be poured into the campaign from outside sources will make her a formidable opponent."
Santiago said Lingle has shown an ability to shape a consistent message, a skill that could help her in a Senate run.
"My gut-level feeling is that as long as the truth about what actually happened, especially during this last year, can come out, I think it will make it more difficult for her," he said.
Lingle’s only short-term commitment, she said, is to co-chair a task force on alumni engagement at California State University at Northridge, her alma mater. Her co-chairman will be Earl Enzer, managing director of private wealth management at Goldman Sachs & Co. in Los Angeles.
"We’ll try to create a plan for our alma mater on how you survive and thrive in a state that’s a fiscal basket case," she said.
Lingle, who has been living in the governor’s residence behind Washington Place, plans to live in a Hawaii Kai condominium after leaving office.