So far, it's Lingle vs. the Machine
THERE IS politics of party and there's politics of personality.
Today Hawaii is gripped by the politics of personality. Gov. Linda Lingle has learned to manage her image through the nightly news and more effectively through multiple daily personal appearances.
Not since former mayor and erstwhile candidate for governor Frank Fasi has one politician's personality so dominated the local public consciousness. Her press conferences are wonders of advanced planning with special backdrops, lots of flags and scores of invited guests. The seamless presentations might not make much news, but the news-watching and news-reading public cannot escape the onslaught of Lingle's media events. As a result, in Hawaii when you think leader, you think Lingle.
If elections were decided only on personality, there would be little rationale for the 2006 governor's race.
Every day that goes by without the Democrats finding a candidate to oppose the governor makes the eventual Democratic nominee that much weaker, according to conventional wisdom.
But Democrats are still planning a campaign, although who will slip into the runner's shoes is still unknown.
Within a matter of a week, Democrats held two more planning meetings to discuss strategy for next year. Hawaii's senior Sen. Dan Inouye headed up the first meeting and the isle unions conducted a separate meeting on Friday.
The meetings produced neither a breakout plan nor a candidate who can light up a room.
It is apparent that the Democrats are going to rely on party, not personality, next year. This does not overly concern Democrats, who can see a race based on "Democratic loyalty."
In 2002, Democrats could not unite behind a candidate as first former Mayor Jeremy Harris pulled out and then former Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono bounced between running for governor, mayor and then governor. Indecision split the party as unions, liberals and progressives found themselves without a rallying point. With no candidate yet, the Democrats still show the possibility of coming together.
Hawaii Kai Republican Sen. Sam Slom notes that on most days "the Democrats have the full force and weight of their majority party. They dominate the Legislature, and the Democrats always seem to take care of their own," says Slom.
Republicans, however, worry that a popular personality has almost no coattails. Two years ago Lingle's GOP was smashed in local elections. In the House, the GOP has dwindled from 18 to just 10.
Slom observes that though Lingle has Democratic supporters who are "absolutely loyal" to her, "many of them have never done a thing to help other Republicans or the party."
With Lingle unable to grow a GOP base, the battle next year is likely to be between Lingle and the entire 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 firstname.lastname@example.org