Linda Lingle: The GOP's Senate Pick-Up in Hawaii?

With all the recent talk of the gains or losses the Republican party stands to make in the United States Senate, there are two issues that have so far gone beneath the radar.  One, the GOP may lose a seat in Maine, as Maine's moderate Republican senator, Olympia Snowe, is retiring and may be replaced with an independent.  And two, the Republicans may pick up a seat in, of all places, Hawaii, with the possible election of another moderate Republican, former Hawaii Republican governor Linda Lingle.  This is kind of like trading a moderate Republican senator from Maine for one from Hawaii.

Hawaii hasn't had a Republican senator since the 1970s.  In fact, Hawaii is so liberal that in 2002 it re-elected a deceased representative to Congress, Patsy Mink, rather than vote for the Republican opponent.  If you think a pulse is optional to participate in the political process only in Chicago, you are wrong.

So how does a Republican candidate for statewide office get elected in deep-blue Hawaii?  Very carefully.  For example, here is what Governor Lingle's website has to say about her position on tax reform:

We have a tax system that is not fair.  Our tax code contains more than 14,000 pages.  It's not logical to expect average Americans and small businesses to understand and navigate this onerous law.  Tax reform is essential because Americans have lost confidence in the way government treats individuals and businesses.  Therefore, the solution is to bring down the tax rate to something more reasonable, while retaining the most important deductions such as the mortgage interest and charitable contributions.

It might be hard to find, but buried inside this paragraph is the fact that Gov. Lingle favors lower tax rates.  Pretty basic, but proposing a tax cut is better than proposing a tax hike.  A more liberal candidate would frame the issue in terms of class differences or the standard "us vs. them" approach of President Obama.

Or take Gov. Lingle's position on energy policy: "Regulatory and bureaucratic barriers to projects that achieve our energy goals need to be reduced or eliminated."  So passively worded that my high school English teacher would lecture the governor on whether she even wants anyone to read that sentence.  Nevertheless, here's my translation: the government needs to grant more permits for drilling for oil and natural gas so as to give our domestic producers a chance to supply our energy needs.  Not exactly "drill, baby, drill," but if she is elected senator, Linda Lingle will probably vote against permitoriums like what we now have in place in the Gulf of Mexico, and she could probably be persuaded to vote for more drilling elsewhere.

Lingle's take on ObamaCare is also nuanced -- not calling for outright repeal like many other Republican candidates.  Instead, she highlights problems in the law, like the bureaucratization of the Independent Payment Advisory Boards, which others call "death panels."  She also calls the elimination of Medicare Advantage "shortsighted."  Lingle also advocates an ObamaCare exemption for Hawaii to preserve "the healthcare benefits that Hawaii citizens have enjoyed since 1974."

Sure, this is all subtle stuff, but there are conservative positions buried here.  And as vague as all her positions are, remember that we are talking about a two-term Republican governor of Hawaii, who won re-election in 2006 with 63% of the vote.  So Lingle might know the right approach to take with Hawaii's voters.  The fact that any Republican has won not one election, but two in Hawaii is quite an accomplishment.

And let's face it: it is probably pretty difficult to get Hawaiians riled up about anything political.  The few times I have been in Hawaii, politics is the last thing on my mind.  In fact, about the only political issue I have in mind when I am in Hawaii is who should sit where at the next luau.  Hawaii may simply not be the place for a hard-charging politician, left or right.

The nomination for both parties in Hawaii will be held on August 11, and Lingle is the clear favorite on the Republican side.  The Democrat nomination will go to either current congressional representative Mazie Hirono or former representative Ed Case.  A recent internal poll by the Lingle campaign showed that she leads Hirono and is tied with Case.  But the momentum is clearly on Lingle's side.  The ultimate outcome in November is listed by the Cook Political Report as "toss-up" and has been since late 2011.

Helping Lingle's chances is her clear financial advantage over either competitor.  In fact, Gov. Lingle is so awash in campaign cash that she was able to set up her own cable TV channel in Hawaii, so that Hawaiians can watch her feel-good, "people first" campaign commercials 24 hours a day.  We've got hard-hitting, controversial ads like this one:

Gov. Lingle: Hawaii is a state of small business owners.  Unlike other states, where you have some very large employers, here we really are reliant on our smaller businesses.  And the most important thing they do is they employ people.

Announcer: That's why Linda Lingle has a plan to encourage small businesses to thrive, create new jobs, and increase tourism.  It's about our Ohana, our future.

Gov. Lingle: I'm Linda Lingle and I approved this message, because I care about the people of Hawaii.

And you never know -- if this year's presidential election is similar to the 1980 contest, there might be a President Obama concession speech on the east coast while people in Hawaii are still standing in line to vote.  Jimmy Carter did that in 1980, and it suppressed Democrat votes in Hawaii.

Anyone wishing to contribute to Lingle's campaign can do so here.  For those of us rooting for the Republican party in the Senate, if Lingle wins the Hawaii seat, the rest of us conservatives owe Hawaii a big "mahalo!"

Tom Thurlow is an attorney who practices law in the San Francisco Bay Area and manages the blog  He lives in Napa County with his wife Martina and daughter Rachel.