Lingle enjoys being
front-runner this time
TIGER WOODS was supposed to win the PGA on Sunday. Leaving the 14th green, he told his caddie, "If we birdie in, we'll win the tournament."
Woods made four consecutive birdies and finished with a 67, the lowest score of the day, but Rich Beem won the trophy. I wonder if Linda Lingle was watching.
Lingle is the Tiger Woods of the upcoming Hawaii gubernatorial election. With the Democrats in disarray, she enjoys a comfortable position as favorite. Last week, she ticked off the differences between this year's campaign and the race she lost in 1998 by 5,254 votes -- a measly 1 percent.
First, this time there's no incumbent. In 1998, Ben Cayetano could rally not only his own campaign and the Democratic Party, but the entire executive branch -- all those appointees looking forward to another term -- and their friends.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, this time she faces a nominal primary election, while Andy Anderson, Ed Case and Mazie Hirono have a tough battle ahead before one of them takes her on in November.
ADMITTEDLY, the Anderson-Case-Hirono showdown is unlikely to be as bloody as Lingle's 1998 battle against Frank Fasi, which sapped her campaign and depleted her war chest. Despite a glorious triumph over Fasi, the primary hurt.
This year, while her opponents struggle for a spot on the ballot, the Lingle dreadnought need only steer clear of GOP primary opponent John Carroll's pesky little gunboat. She's refused to debate him -- "It's not part of my campaign strategy," she says.
"He wants to talk about gun control and abortion -- issues that appeal to a narrow group," Lingle says. She's seeking a broader appeal, focusing on restoring trust in government, improving education and strengthening the economy.
LIVING on Oahu, instead of enduring a grinding commute to and from Maui, has made a big difference, she says. Four years ago, she says, she can't remember a meal that wasn't at a restaurant.
When she was still Maui mayor, she didn't have a hand in designing her campaign organization. This time, it's different. Her campaign organization is bigger and has the most experience.
She's cashing in on the investment she made as GOP chairwoman following her 1998 defeat, turning things around. "Who but an optimist would want to be chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party?" she asks.
Without naming names, she notes that two of the candidates for lieutenant governor (Duke Aiona and Dalton Tanonaka) are newcomers to the party, attractive to voters outside traditional GOP ranks. That wasn't so when Stan Koki, a conservative former state senator, was her running mate.
Pledging to limit her 1998 campaign spending to no more than $2.7 million was a big mistake, she admits. It led to a virtual media blackout two weeks before the election when she hit the limit. This time, she's set no spending cap and, for the moment, she has the most money.
LINGLE says she won't repeat the biggest mistake she made in 1998, which was to think she was running only against Ben Cayetano. "I was running against the status quo."
She says she expected Ben Cayetano to outspend her last time -- which he did, to the tune of $4.5 million -- but she didn't anticipate the "piling on" of ads purchased by unions and companies that stood to benefit from Cayetano's re-election.
This time, she's even got one union endorsement herself, from SHOPO, the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers.
"I have no vested interest in the system as it exists," she says. "I haven't been a part of creating it."
Now, if she can just birdie the last four holes, the trophy could be hers.
John Flanagan is the Star-Bulletin's contributing editor.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.