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Aiona keeps sights on governor’s office

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Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona said yesterday that he will decide after the 2012 elections whether to run for governor again in 2014.

The Republican, who lost to Gov.-elect Neil Abercrombie by 17 percentage points earlier this month, said he would not consider any other political office. He plans to take a private-sector job within the next few weeks.

"I have no intention, no ambition, no desire to run for any other office, whether it be Congress, Senate, state House seats or whatever it may be. That’s out of the question," Aiona said. "I only have one office in mind, and that’s the gubernatorial seat in 2014."

In his first round of news media interviews since the election, Aiona said he has no significant regrets about the campaign but is still trying to determine why the gap with Abercrombie was so large. His internal polls showed him trailing by single digits just before the vote.

Aiona believes his core message of lower taxes and smaller government was the right one during an economic downturn. He also thinks voters responded to his challenge to Abercrombie over how the Democrat would pay for the new state departments and programs he promised.

"I feel very confident that we won on the issues," Aiona said. "We had the better plan and we had the better platform. But in a lot of instances, that doesn’t win elections. People vote for other reasons."

Aiona acknowledged that he spent too much of his campaign money early, may have waited too long to release critical advertising against Abercrombie and may have miscalculated by holding a news conference to discuss his ties to a Christian conservative group with controversial views on homosexuality.

The lieutenant governor also said Democrats successfully linked him to Gov. Linda Lingle, whose popularity declined after teacher furloughs and state spending cuts were used to help with the state’s budget deficit.

"There were some people that didn’t vote (for me) because they felt that I was too religious. Some people felt that I was hooked to Lingle and the furloughs and stuff like that," Aiona said. "The reasons varied out there."

Aiona said he would take several factors into account when deciding whether to launch another campaign for governor. He said he wants to see whether Republicans continue to make political gains nationally, whether Lingle runs successfully for U.S. Senate and how the Abercrombie administration performs on economic recovery. He also wants to see whether the state GOP is on the upswing.

"I just want to see the landscape at that point in time," Aiona said.

Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii-Manoa, said that while governor’s campaigns are candidate-driven, a strong political party provides essential structure.

"I think his viability is as good as any other Republican candidate," he said. "I think the issue is more the strength of the Republican Party than Aiona."

State GOP leaders have re-evaluated the past formula for Republican campaigns — rally the Republican base, capture most independents and convert moderate Democrats — and many now believe they have to expand the electorate in order to be successful. This year the target was faith-based voters, which did not produce immediate results.

"We’re trying to grow the base," Aiona said. "Whether that includes the faith-based (voters), it doesn’t matter — you’re growing the base. That’s what you have to do as a political party."

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