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Democrats wrong if they think U.S. Senate race is a slam dunk

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To Hawaii’s Democrats, next year’s open U.S. Senate seat looks like a primary-only affair.

The talk is of the heavyweights circling each other, each ticking off their reasons for winning.

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case was first out of the box this week, with an emailing to supporters announcing that he took a poll and was ahead and they should send him money.

Case detailed only how his poll showed him winning in a theoretical match-up with former Mayor Mufi Hannemann (Case up 47 percent to 35 percent) and then against former Gov. Linda Lingle (up 49 percent to 37 percent). Case says his poll had other match-ups, but they were not disclosed. Still, Case said he was still thinking about what he should do. Hint: It is being the next U.S. senator from Hawaii.

That is what a lot of Hawaii Democrats would like to be.

Hannemann is making himself more and more visible every hour. He’s marching in parades, he’s firing off Twitter messages about his parade marching and he’s pumping up his Facebook page with pictures from the parade. Still, a glowing social media profile does not a primary winner make.

Congresswomen Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono have neither taken themselves out of speculation, nor appear close to any announcements. At the same time, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and even former Gov. John Waihee have been mentioned. Schatz is not saying and Waihee had initially taken himself out of the speculation, but his name still pops up.

What the Democrats might want to contemplate is who can run effectively against Lingle.

It is not a sure thing that she will run.

GOP observers note that Lingle did not attend last week’s county GOP convention, nor has she started any serious private planning. Some strong allies say that Lingle herself is not sure if she will run.

"It is not on her radar," a former Lingle strategist said.

If her radar screen does light up, it behooves the Democrats to pay attention.

There are a lot of reason why Lingle could win.

Some Democrats say Lingle is vulnerable because the GOP doesn’t have strong grassroots appeal and Lingle never developed a grassroots organization — and besides, there are a lot more Democrats than there are Republicans in Hawaii.

As one former popular Hawaii Democrat once said: "I don’t know if I should water the grassroots, cut them or pee on them."

Grassroots are great to have, but as one GOP strategist said, "Grassroots supporters means you have to ability to inspire and motivate individuals."

And Lingle is fully capable of making that work.

At the same time, it should worry Democrats that there is no clear frontrunner in their Senate stable. That can produce a bloody and expensive Democratic primary.

If Hannemann, Hanabusa, Schatz and Case get in the race it could exhaust all four corners of the Democratic power block. Lingle would not likely have strong primary opposition, while the winning Democrat is likely to be damaged goods.

Lingle would also have a lot of money. On a national level, the Democrats have 23 Senate races to defend; they will not be thinking about dumping money into the historically blue state of Hawaii, birthplace of President Baracak Obama.

Republicans, in contrast, can put up a strong, well-financed campaign if it means turning the Senate majority to their column.

Today it is not a sure bet that Lingle will run, but if she does, the Democrats will be in a real fight.


Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at

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