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Monday, May 8, 2000

Lingle’s test: How
many Republicans
can get elected

The convention celebrates a
flood of delegates, record funds
and many candidates

By Richard Borreca


Republican party old-timers agree that Linda Lingle, the former Maui mayor and unsuccessful candidate for governor in 1998, has transformed the Hawaii Republican Party, but that is only the first of several challenges.

Republicans gathering in convention in Waikiki during the weekend had much to cheer about:

They had an overflow of delegates, they have raised a record amount of money, and they are working to fill every available race slot with a candidate for the fall elections.

Still, as outgoing national committeeman Howard Chong said: "Lingle's test is going to be how many Republicans she gets elected this fall."

Chong, who is succeeded by Lingle's former Maui finance director, Travis Thompson, recalled how the Hawaii GOP was dominated by supporters of Pat Robertson when he ran for president in 1988.

"I can't see more than about four of those folks left today," he said.

If the weekend convention reflects a new GOP, it is one built from the Lingle campaign, which two years ago was a grass-roots organization constructed around the popularity of Lingle.

Jill Frierson, former state executive director and now campaign consultant, said Lingle worked hard to "help people like me who have been beating their head against a wall for years."

"And she's worked hard to get people to understand her philosophy of getting people to come together and build a community," Frierson said.

Lingle walked through the convention at the Hilton Hawaiian Village talking with former campaign supporters who are now card-carrying Republicans.

She pointed to Danny Rodrigues, 27, a truck driver for Hawaiian Sun, with two children, who voted for her two years ago and then became active after she lost.

"This is the future of the Republican Party," she said.

Another party veteran, Jim Hall, walked through the convention saying, "I don't recognize any of these people."

Lingle reported signing 1,400 new party members. And treasurer Linda Smith, who also worked on the Lingle campaign, said the party has set an off-election-year record, raising $628,000.

Philosophically, the party has changed some, too.

In previous years, the debate on abortion would become an all-consuming platform battle. One year, delegates actually ended the convention without adopting a new platform to avoid a bitter fight on abortion.

But this year, Lingle, working with platform chairman Darwin Ching, put together a compromise that calls for recognition of court-allowed abortion, but is opposed to partial-birth abortions.

"If you look at the platform, it moved from the right to the middle," says Hall.

Still the first test will come in November, when the GOP has hopes of gaining six and maybe eight new House seats.

Finally, the big test is two years away in the race for governor.

As Miriam Hellreich, national committeewoman, proclaimed:

"We expect to elect Linda Lingle in 2002."

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