Hawaii votes unlikely to alter power balance
Analysts say the state remains a Democratic stronghold
With close races across the country and dismal approval ratings for the Bush administration and the war in Iraq, Democrats nationwide head into Election Day with hopes of shifting the balance of power in at least one of the two chambers of Congress.
And just as in most years, any shift in that balance isn't likely to be the result of any Hawaii seats changing hands, political observers say.
Despite Republican control of the state's top office since 2002 and growth in party numbers over recent election cycles, Hawaii remains a decidedly "blue" state.
"It's not like we're necessarily less interested in politics here than they are anywhere else, but it's the degree to which this place still is one-sided," said University of Hawaii political scientist Neal Milner. "The success of (Gov. Linda) Lingle has not yet spilled over to the party, generally, so you haven't gotten to a point yet where there's a large enough base of solid Republican voters for candidates to depend on."
In other words, incumbent Democrats -- U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie -- are safe, and House hopeful Mazie Hirono, the former Democratic lieutenant governor, can start packing for Washington, D.C.
"I don't see any evidence that there's any change from what you'd anticipate," said Ira Rohter, another UH political science professor.
For their part, both Republican and Democratic candidates have filled their weekend schedules with sign-waving rallies and other "get out the vote" efforts as they head into Tuesday's general election walking and talking as if the races were dead even.
"We're working hard to make sure the senator's message gets out there," said Elisa Yadao, a spokeswoman for Akaka's campaign. "Certainly we feel good about the campaign that we've done and we just encourage everyone to get to the polls and vote."
Akaka's challenger, state Rep. Cynthia Thielen, had perhaps the biggest hurdle to climb, having to mount a statewide campaign in a mere six weeks after being named as a replacement for Jerry Coffee, the former prisoner of war who won the GOP Senate nomination despite pulling out of the race because of illness.
But Thielen said she considered that an advantage.
"Before my opponent realized our strength, we had raised nearly one-third of a million dollars," Thielen said. "They just were, I believe, taking it for granted that he would win."
While Akaka still remained far ahead of Thielen in name recognition, money and endorsements, Thielen did pick up support from some groups, including the Hawaii Coalition of Conservation Voters, which had supported primarily Democrats in the primary.
"I feel very, very positive that we can win this race," she said. "I believe in the voters and I believe that they want someone that is energetic, independent minded and has a proven track record of accomplishing things in a bipartisan way."
In the House races, Abercrombie is expected to easily turn back a challenge from Richard "Noah" Hough, a defense industry consultant and Army officer.
Although Hough waged a decent primary campaign, he acknowledged that he was unable to keep up the effort once his money ran out and he received virtually no support from the state party. Hough has been a critic of the Bush administration.
Hirono and state GOP Sen. Bob Hogue have waged the most spirited campaign, trading barbs in recent weeks over the tone of campaign ads.
Hogue faced the disadvantage of taking on a well-known Democrat in a heavily Democratic district.
"This is not a good year for Republicans running for Congress nationally," Milner said. "One of the issues that seems to be working on the mainland to mobilize voters (the Iraq war) is basically a Democratic issue."
Still, Hirono has stressed that she is taking nothing for granted.
"We're feeling good, but there's a lot that has to happen," said Julie Stauch, Hirono's campaign manager.
Like Democrats in close races elsewhere, Hirono has hit Hogue hard on his support for Bush and the war in Iraq.
Hogue has campaigned on a "positive" platform and touted his willingness to work with members of both parties.
"The reality is, Bob is Republican, but he's a moderate," said campaign manager Malia Smith. "He's determined that his vote and the work that he will be doing on behalf of the people of the 2nd Congressional District is going to be contingent upon what the people want."