Will it be status quo or new direction?
TWO THINGS happened in Thursday night's debate between Sen. Dan Akaka and Rep. Ed Case.
First, those who were undecided before watching Akaka's performance will have more questions about the senator.
That's according to Democratic Party observers who said the debate did not help Akaka because he appeared uncertain, failed to take advantage of opportunities to drive home his message and couldn't expand on the reasons to vote for him.
Observers such as University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner, said that Case in comparison was strong, until it came to the issue of Iraq.
"His (Case's) answers on Iraq still remain as vague as they have throughout the campaign, but he did say a little more about his Iraq positions than he had in the past," Milner said.
Hawaii Pacific University communications professor Jack Hart also said Akaka won the debate point on Iraq.
"Akaka's best moment was his response in opposition to the war. It was simple and elegant. I thought it was his strongest moment," Hart said.
Despite Akaka's heart-felt conviction that the United States blundered into an a complex war with no exit strategy, observers kept coming back to the uncomfortable feeling that Akaka, who will be 82 by election day, is too old for the job.
The second stand-out issue from the debate is an answer to the question, "Just how conservative is Ed Case?"
Case is a neoliberal, said Deane Neubauer, who is a UH political scientist and sociologist.
Case was able to separate himself from the far more economic conservative views of President Bush, while still saying he was a fiscal moderate interested in a balanced budget. Akaka made no attempt to try to drive Case into the Republican Party as his supporters have claimed.
"Akaka I think allowed opportunities to slip by for him to articulate why the Democratic Party values to which he is so deeply attached are important by merely reiterating them in the conventional slogans," Neubauer said.
But Neubauer stressed that Case's position as a neo- liberal would be more conservative than what we have come to expect from our congressional delegation.
What is the political result of the debate? For those who watched, it could provoke a change, according to Kate Zhou, also a UH political scientist.
"If people in Hawaii want to take the Democratic Party in a new direction, they will vote for Case. If the status quo is what people in Hawaii want, they will vote for Akaka," Zhou predicted.
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