Statewide name recognition gives Hirono the advantage
Bob vs. Mazie.
The underdog state senator against the favored former lieutenant governor.
Mr. Nice Guy from the GOP taking on the seasoned vet in a heavily Democratic district.
However you bill it, the race for Ed Case's seat representing rural Oahu and the neighbor islands in the U.S. House is finally set after an agonizingly close primary for both winners.
Mazie Hirono won the Democratic bid against nine other hopefuls, finishing just 836 votes ahead of state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa. In the two-man GOP primary, state Sen. Bob Hogue's margin over former House Minority Leader Quentin Kawananakoa was even slimmer, at just 189 votes.
Although Hanabusa made up a lot of ground in the final weeks of the campaign and won the vote on Oahu, most analysts agreed that Hirono's statewide name recognition from her failed 2002 gubernatorial campaign, coupled with her statewide profile during eight years as lieutenant governor, was too much for the others to overcome.
She has that same advantage over Hogue.
"It's even more of an advantage than she had in the primary -- this is a hugely Democratic district," said University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner. "She's known statewide. She's got campaign resources statewide. She's not a terrific campaigner, but she starts with enough of a cushion that she can deal with it that way."
Hogue won despite being outspent by his opponent almost 8 to 1. According to the most recent filings with the Federal Elections Commission, Hogue had spent about $51,000 on the primary, compared with $417,000 by Kawananakoa.
"One advantage Hogue had was he didn't need as much media as some others because he's a fairly well-known guy," Milner said, referring to Hogue's background as a television sports broadcaster and local newspaper columnist.
Milner also noted that the GOP primary attracted only about 16,500 voters.
"It turns out you didn't need to reach a whole lot of people," he said.
Hogue acknowledged that he likely will not be able to repeat such success in the general election without more financial support.
"I'm just hopeful, at this point, that some of the people that haven't been able to come forward will join forces with us," he said yesterday.
Hirono also was the top spender among the 10 Democrats, using about $500,000 of her $650,000 in campaign funds, compared with the $275,000 spent by Hanabusa, who collected about $334,000.
Regardless of any perceived or actual lead, she expects the race for the general election to be just as difficult.
"We know that the Republicans are not about to hand this seat over to us, so it's very important that we run a really strong race," she said.
While the primaries were largely cordial with few personal attacks, the tenor is likely to change as the Nov. 7 election date approaches.
Hirono says a large part of her strategy will be to highlight Hogue's support of the Bush administration on issues such as the war in Iraq, privatization of Social Security and tax cuts for the wealthy.
"He may be a nice guy, but he's representing a party and a president that's not very nice to the working men and women of this state and this country," Hirono said. "We're going to make that really clear to the voters."
Throughout his campaign, Hogue has characterized himself as an "average person" and stressed a positive campaign that he says is needed to cut through partisan bickering. Kawananakoa had criticized him for ducking the issues and trying to sell style over substance.
Hogue said he would continue stressing a positive message, although not directly saying whether he would distance himself from Bush as some mainland Republicans in close races have done.
"I'll take a look at things, but I just believe that we are going through an incredible time in our country right now," he said. "I remain tremendously optimistic, and that will be my message throughout the campaign."