Lingle is model for GOP to gain ground in isles
Republicans think her issues can appeal to a wide range of voters
Republicans want candidates just like Gov. Linda Lingle to help them gain ground in Hawaii, national GOP Chairman Ken Mehlman said Friday.
Mehlman and Lingle raised about $300,000 for Republican candidates at a dinner Thursday night at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, attended by 1,300 people, he said.
"She has provided a good model," Mehlman said. "We have a living, breathing, effective example of what a Hawaii Republican is like in Linda Lingle, and that will help us elect other Republicans in other offices."
Other than getting Lingle elected in 2002, Republicans have struggled for success in a state long dominated by Democrats. Hawaii Republicans have not won a race for Congress since former Rep. Pat Saiki was last elected in 1988, and the party lost ground in the Legislature last election, with barely 20 percent minorities in both houses.
Lingle is the cornerstone of the Republican Party's prospects because she and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona, elected in tandem with her, are the party's only candidates to hold a major office in Hawaii.
"In a state like Hawaii, it's harder to elect a Republican than a Democrat, unless you run as a reform Republican that attracts a lot of support from Democrats," Mehlman said.
Those kinds of candidates should copy many of Lingle's issues -- fiscal responsibility, transparency in government, energy independence and education reform -- he said.
So far, no Republicans have announced their candidacies for the U.S. House or Senate. A crowded field of Democrats is expected to compete for the seat being left open by Rep. Ed Case, who is running against Sen. Daniel Akaka for the Senate.
Although Lingle might be a good start for the Republican Party in Hawaii, it will be difficult to build on her success, said Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii.
"That sounds like a good model to me. The problem is that it hasn't worked so far," Milner said.
The state's long history of loyalty to Democratic candidates will hinder movements toward political change, Milner said.
"Voting changes in the electorate take a long time. It's not at all clear yet whether the Republicans are going to be successful at this," he said.
Lingle faces re-election this November, but only one Democrat -- former state lawmaker Randy Iwase -- has entered the race. She was the first Republican to win the governor's office after 40 years of Democratic rule.
Lingle's campaign has raised more than $3.2 million so far, and she planned to spend about $6 million total to win re-election.
Mehlman said Republicans will run for each contested seat in Congress, but he declined to mention any of their names until they announce their candidacies.
Mike Gabbard, a former Honolulu councilman, has said he is interested in running for Case's seat. Mark Terry, who works in real estate and car dealing, said Thursday he will enter the Republican primary for Rep. Neil Abercrombie's seat.