Democrat Mazie Hirono, at top, spoke yesterday to the crowd assembled at Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana's headquarters in Kahului.

Democrats find
focus in neighbor
island rallies

The unity show underscores the
necessity of other islands for victory

By Craig Gima

Democrats took their unity show on the road, or rather to the air, with a series of rallies on the neighbor islands after their traditional post-election breakfast yesterday.

The party rented an Aloha Airlines jet to ferry standard-bearers Mazie Hirono and Matt Matsunaga, former gubernatorial candidates Ed Case and D.G. "Andy" Anderson and other top candidates and party officials to unity rallies on the Big Island, Maui and Kauai.

The event to kick off the campaign against Republican Linda Lingle was dubbed the "Flight to Victory" and cost the party about $30,000, officials said.

"I don't think a gubernatorial candidate can win without the neighbor islands," said state party chairwoman Lorraine Akiba.

Democrats have been able to fight to a draw or even lose slightly on Oahu and make up the difference on the other islands.

Republican turned Democratic gubernatorial candidate Anderson knows this well.

"I lost the neighbor islands, all of them," said Anderson, who lost to former governor John Waihee 16 years ago.

At left, Lt. Gov. Hirono and her husband, Leighton Oshima, looked over paperwork on the flight to Hilo as part of a statewide "Flight to Victory" rally.

During his speeches on each island, Waihee remarked on how his former Republican rival is now part of the party and also noted how Democrats have come from behind after the primary.

"We've been in this situation before. We were miles behind. Are you ready to do it one more time? We did it before, we can do it again," he urged the crowds.

"There's some truth in the formula still," said Case, noting that he beat Hirono on Oahu, but lost on all the neighbor islands.

Case said he thinks Hirono was able to tap the traditional Democratic support on the neighbor islands to win on Saturday, but that she will have to move beyond traditional Democratic base and embrace a message of change to beat Lingle in November.

"If Democrats can keep Democratic voters home by articulating a means of change with Democratic values, Democrats can and will prevail," Case said.

"I don't think the neighbor islands are Democratic automatically," Anderson said. Demographics are changing, he said.

Sixteen years ago, the Democrats could count on the neighbor islands, now they have to fight for them, he said.

Hirono agrees that there is a block of independent voters even among those who voted in the Democratic primary. But she said, "it's clear that the Democratic message still resonates. It's for us to keep all those votes. That's why grass roots is so important especially if you look at the neighbor islands."

Hirono said that four years ago, when she and Cayetano battled Lingle, they were much farther behind than they are now.

City Councilman Romy Cachola, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, Gov. Ben Cayetano, Hirono and former Gov. John Waihee sang "Hawaii Aloha" at the Democratic Unity Breakfast at Dole Cannery.

In Hilo, Big Island Democrats noted that the island went to Lingle in 1998, but voted for Gore in 2000. The island, they believe, will go for Hirono.

"It's an uphill battle, but we'll win it," said John Buckstead, who was wearing a Case button to the Hilo rally.

On Maui, the rally was held at the reelection headquarters for Maui Mayor James "Kimo" Apana. Over stew and rice and other food and drink, Democrats could not resist the opportunity to question former mayor Lingle's record.

"Let's face it, we are going to beat the woman from your island," Hirono told the crowd.

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