Lingle could escape Bushie briar patch
Just one year ago Hawaii was "in play" as public opinion polls saw Hawaii's voters shifting toward incumbent presidential candidate George W. Bush. One of the nation's deep blue states appeared ready to go Republican red.
As it turned out, Hawaii resoundingly voted against Bush, giving him 194,191 votes to Sen. John Kerry's 231,708. Last year Vice President Dick Cheney blew through town on Halloween night, talking of Hawaii as a battleground state. Today there's not a peep out of the White House about Hawaii, and we might just turn out to be the "I told you so" state.
Bush's popularity is at an all-time low with increased mistrust about his handling of the Iraq war, the bungled nightmare of recovering from Hurricane Katrina and now even disapproval from his own right wing concerning the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Eleven months ago Governor Lingle was an Air Force One buddy of Bush's and a player in the national campaign. Today there is a question whether Lingle's closeness with the White House will hurt her own re-election campaign.
"She has tied herself to this administration and the record of this administration is abysmal. He has been found wanting in terms of leadership, and I think the same thing will come out in the gubernatorial election," Rep. Neil Abercrombie says.
Lingle, however, says it is too early to say how the public will view Bush at election time.
"I think the large majority will judge me on the work my team and I have done," Lingle says.
University of Hawaii political scientists Ira Rohter and Neal Milner are somewhat split on the question of Bush dumping his baggage on the Lingle train.
Lingle, Milner points out, has not linked herself with the national GOP, and the state Democratic Party has failed to define Lingle in a negative light.
"Even with a weak president and in a heavily Democratic state, Bush might not be a problem for Lingle because she will have so much latitude in defining her own image," Milner said.
Rohter also faults the Democrats for not doing a better job in drawing attention to Lingle's own potential liabilities, such as appointing political friends and their relatives to boards and commissions.
But, Rohter adds, "the reflection is that she has tied herself to Bush, and I don't know what she is going to do to turn that around."
Democrats recently took a poll to measure Lingle's popularity. It showed her job performance rated high at more than 70 percent. But Democrats also have effectively campaigned against Republicans by linking them to unpopular national Republicans such as former Rep. Newt Gingrich.
If the Bush plunge continues into 2006, the dive might refloat the Democratic Party.
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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at email@example.com