Richard Borreca

On Politics


Democratic voters
send confusing messages

To paraphrase President Ronald Reagan: "There they go again." Hawaii's Democrats appear once again to have gone walkabout. This first happened four years ago when the then-Republican mayor of Maui almost knocked off the sitting Democratic governor, Ben Cayetano. At that time, with Hawaii deep in a recession, Linda Lingle stressed that her own management style had helped prop up the tourist-based economy on Maui.

Cayetano, who won election in 1994 in a three-way general election with less than a majority and eked out a slim victory in 1998, but even then, because of third-party candidates, was unable to muster 50 percent of the total vote.

Public opinion polls taken since 1998 show Hawaii's Democrats maintaining a steady 40 percent of the vote, while the GOP has edged up to 25 percent from 20 percent.

Four years ago, Democrats were able to win by attacking Lingle for being a Republican. They succeeded in changing the discussion from the merits of Lingle to the national GOP so that a vote for Cayetano was a vote against the Republican Party, not against Lingle. Today, Democrats and Republicans look at that strategy from different viewpoints.

Lingle says she didn't realize she would be running against not only Cayetano and the Democrats, but against all the labor unions and the businesses that were heavily indebted to the state government. Campaign ads in the last two weeks before the election were pouring in from groups trying to help Cayetano by attacking Lingle for being a Republican. It served as the siren to call the Democrats home.

Democrats such as pollster Don Clegg say Lingle's popularity four years ago was the result of Democrats straying from the fold.

"We had to bring the Democrats home," Clegg explained at the time.

To do that, Clegg suggested that Democrats must campaign not against Lingle, but against the national GOP, against Newt Gingrich, in an effort to convince dallying Democrats that the best way to understand Lingle was to check out her mainland buddies.

Today, Democrats are again wandering off. Polls show that Democrats still represent the political thinking of 40 percent of the voters, but that nearly half of the voters want Lingle as governor. Lingle figures that without an incumbent to protect and a fractured union base, the Democrats will have a more difficult time winding up a warning siren.

Some public-opinion data show Lingle may be right. For instance on Kauai, where half the people say they are Democrats, almost 40 percent said they would support Lingle. The mission for Democratic leaders is again to mount a last-minute homecoming.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached at 525-8630 or by e-mail at

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