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Editorials

Wednesday, November 3, 2004



[ OUR OPINION ]


Keep Hawaii on
presidential
campaign map


THE ISSUE

Hawaii became a battleground state in the last days of the race for president after polls indicated a tight race.


FINALLY, respect. After coloring Hawaii blue for nearly the entire presidential campaign, opinion polls showing President Bush and Sen. John Kerry running even brought out the last-minute heavy artillery from both sides. Yesterday's election should prevent future presidential aspirants from making assumptions about Hawaii.

"Some candidates may take Hawaii for granted; President Bush and I take it seriously," Vice President Dick Cheney told a crowd at the Hawaii Convention Center on Sunday night. Actually, neither presidential ticket took the islands seriously until recent polls indicated a close contest in the campaign's final days.

Realizing that Hawaii could become a swing state prompted Cheney to divert from his planned campaign stops -- logging 8,270 miles aboard Air Force Two from Sunday morning to Monday night. Two nights earlier, former Vice President Al Gore and Alexandra Kerry, a daughter of the Democratic nominee, urgently arrived to speak at a rally that had been planned for Rep. Neil Abercrombie.

Kerry, Former President Bill Clinton, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. John Edwards, Kerry's running mate, became available for interviews by satellite on Honolulu television stations. Recorded pitches by Bush, Sen. John McCain and various Democratic notables were played over the telephone to Hawaii homes. TV ads for Bush and for Kerry suddenly flooded local stations.

Political strategists should have realized earlier that Hawaii leans in favor of incumbent presidents. The state's four electoral votes went to Clinton in both 1992 and 1996, but voters also cast ballots in favor of second terms for Republicans Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Governor Lingle attributed the Bush support in Hawaii to the state's improved economy, for which she credited the president's economic policies. One report noted Lingle's effort to attract Asians and Hawaiians to the Republican Party.

Others suggested Hawaii's changing demographics altered the political climate, contributing to Lingle's election two years ago. However, Democrats remain in control of the Legislature and fill all of the state's four seats in Congress. Nor does it explain why Gore won Hawaii by more than 18 percent of the vote in 2000; demographics have not changed that much.

Whatever the reason for the narrow margin among Hawaii's voters in the Bush-Kerry race, it should serve as a lesson for both parties. Instead of making frantic trips at the end of the campaign, future presidential tickets ought to consider full-day visits to the islands as part of their Western swings, using their campaign airplanes as hotels.

At least in this election, Hawaii voters could feel important. "It clearly puts Hawaii in a different position than it's been in a long time," Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii, told The New York Times before the polls opened. "In 1980 I went to the polls to vote and Carter had conceded already. That's the kind of standard joke here." At long last, there was no joking this year.

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