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Abercrombie takes on Lingle as 2012 campaigns heat up

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Gov. Neil Abercrombie is weaving his way through the entanglements of local Democratic party politics as he rallies Democratic troops against former GOP Gov. Linda Lingle’s U.S. Senate bid.

In a Thursday interview in his state Capitol office, Abercrombie gave the flip side of Lingle’s argument for bipartisan representation.

The two-term former governor and Maui mayor says one of the reasons she should be elected to replace retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Akaka is her ability to work within the Senate’s GOP bloc.

If the Senate majority switches from Democrat to Republican, then, Lingle argues, she will be in a position to help the state.

Abercrombie, who is already actively campaigning at Democratic Party events, says if Lingle is elected and the GOP controls the Senate, Lingle will be forced to vote against Hawaii’s senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.

"Is your first vote going to be to remove Sen. Daniel K. Inouye as Appropriations (committee) chairman and the answer will be, ‘Yes, I will vote to remove Sen. Inouye.’ That would be a blow to Hawaii we will not countenance," Abercrombie said.

"There is no way the people of Hawaii will elect someone whose first act is to vote to remove Sen. Inouye," said Abercrombie, who said the loss of the powerful money committee post would be "a body blow to Hawaii."

He noted that because she faces light opposition in her primary (against former GOP chairman John Carroll) Lingle will go into the general election race "with time and money on her side."

Abercrombie, who toyed with a campaign against Lingle in 2006 before deciding to run for re-election to Congress, thinks Lingle will fail to convince voters she can represent Hawaii as a Republican.

"Gov. Lingle will find it impossible to run the campaign she has already stated she will run, that is, she is a bipartisan candidate," Abercrombie said.

Lingle is stressing her ability to represent Hawaii by working with both political parties.

"I worked closely with senators and congressmen of both parties to sponsor and hold hearings on the Akaka Bill for Native Hawaiian recognition," Lingle points out on her campaign Web page.

In his argument that Lingle will vote against Inouye, Abercrombie actually is stating the obvious. As Abercrombie noted, "Gov. Lingle is running as a Republican, she will caucus with the Republicans."

Republicans vote for Republicans, Democrats vote for Democrats, no matter how bad either smells.

If the GOP controls the U.S. Senate in 2013, the newly elected senator from Hawaii will not be deciding Inouye’s fate. It will be a done deal. Inouye will not be the Appropriations Committee chairman, period. Majority rules.

Meanwhile, Abercrombie may find some other nettlesome problems popping up back home.

The nominally nonpartisan race for mayor of Honolulu is turning out to be a Democratic Party brawl with entangled alliances.

Although current Mayor Peter Carlisle started out as a Republican, when he ran for mayor he decided to abandon the GOP. Carlisle this year appeared on stage at a Democratic Party rally for President Barack Obama, later explaining that his campaign supporters urged him to attend, but while he supported Obama’s help for Honolulu, he was neither a Republican nor a Democrat.

The unions are backing former acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell, a member of the Democratic Party hierarchy by virtue of his former title as Democratic leader in the state House.

But this leaves one of the state’s biggest, strongest Democrats, former Gov. Ben Cayetano, out of the mix.

According to polls, Cayetano’s campaign is the biggest bipartisan operation in the state, getting overwhelming GOP and a fair share of Democratic support.

Abercrombie, as titular party head, says he is staying out of the mayor’s race. Abercrombie’s wife, first lady Dr. Nancie Caraway, a politically independent and strong progressive, is supporting Cayetano, attending rallies and fundraisers for him.

Either keeping free of the mayor’s race or jumping in to help an old buddy may be Abercrombie’s biggest political decision this summer.

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

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