By Nate Gaddis
With the race to fill Daniel Akaka’s Senate seat entering its final stretch, Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle are in full battle mode, with both candidates (and their campaigns) firing off attacks on a daily basis.
There’s a mountain of dirt piling up, and we’re busily sifting through it. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be picking through the most common wads of verbal mud the candidates are lobbing at each other, and examining them for defects.
Democrats: “Lingle is a Palin-Hugging Bush-Lover”
Much has been made by Democrats of Lingle’s past associations within her own party.
At the Republican National Convention in 2008, the former Hawaii governor was tasked with delivering the speech to nominate Sarah Palin as John McCain’s running mate.
Lingle glowingly described the Alaskan in her remarks, stating “Sarah is a person with proven leadership skills,” before going on to describe Palin’s success as captain of her high school basketball team, and her reign as “Ms. Wasilla.”
Like a mysterious and alluring new exchange student, Palin had briefly hogged the national spotlight. Hanging out with the “new girl” had obvious benefits, and during her speech Lingle repeatedly described the kinship and admiration she felt for the first term Alaskan governor.
Palin’s popularity would quickly fade, and for Democrats, Lingle’s convention speech now represents 17 minutes of priceless campaign gold.
Putting aside Palin’s polarizing nature though, it’s hard to imagine Mazie Hirono turning down a similar opportunity to address her party in a nationally televised appearance. In fact, the woman likely to fill Hirono’s seat in the US House will soon have the chance to introduce herself to the nation. Tulsi Gabbard recently announced that she will be speaking at the 2012 Democratic national convention.
Lingle made no error by speaking at the 2008 Republican event. She simply had the misfortune (or poor judgement) of taking on a volatile subject matter. Gabbard for her part will reportedly be focusing on “women in uniform.”
But Sarah Palin is not the first polarizing Republican to enjoy Lingle’s praise. The former Hawaii governor is often quoted by Democrats as having called George W. Bush the “greatest president.”
Given that there are currently no plans to carve Bush’s likeness into Mount Rushmore, holding the former president in higher esteem than Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson would seem slightly controversial.
With the origin of the quote difficult to locate, we contacted the Lingle campaign for clarification. They responded with the following statement:
“By all accounts, Linda Lingle made the reference about President Bush in 2002. The context was in relation to his actions in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. After the horrific attack on our country, Americans needed real leadership, and President Bush provided strong, determined and calm, decisive actions.”
Bush indeed enjoyed strong popularity at the time, and significant congressional support. Lingle’s statement was striking, but easier to understand when properly dated. The war in Afghanistan was well under way in 2002, and the nation was largely united behind that effort.
But times change. Ten years later, the 2012 Republican Convention would feature a slightly disheveled Clint Eastwood lecturing an empty chair on the folly of the Afghan war.
Republicans: “Hirono is a Partisan Insider and No-Show”
The day after the August 11th primaries, Lingle leveled a verbal attack against Hirono, calling her “an extremely partisan Washington insider with no record of accomplishments, who believes this election is about President Obama and difficult childhoods.”
By all accounts, Hirono’s early life was indeed difficult. Her mother fled Japan to escape an alcoholic husband, and the family lived in a state of poverty after arriving in Hawaii. Hirono certainly speaks of her childhood often. Whether that habit is something worth criticizing is open to interpretation.
Hirono, for her part, has chosen to fight the claim that she is “partisan.” The Democrat has been airing television spots highlighting her work with Republican Alaska Sen. Don Young.
In addition, Hirono recently touted her vote in favor of the Budget Control Act of 2011. Honolulu Civil Beat reported in August that her campaign was using the controversial measure as an example of Hirono’s ability to compromise with Republicans.
The Budget Control Act of 2011 was a last-minute effort to avoid a federal government default, and forms the basis for the looming “fiscal cliff” facing the US economy. If congress fails to reach a budget compromise by the end of this year, $1.2 trillion in spending cuts could be enacted. Many economists believe those cuts would be enough to push the US back into recession.
Hirono expressed reservations over large sections of the bill in 2011, and it seems odd that she would choose to use it as an example of her ability to reach across the aisle. But measured by her votes, Hirono may not have many examples of bipartisanship to point to. A statistical analysis by GovTrack (a legislative tracking service) ranks Hirono to the left of both Barney Frank and Charles Rangel in terms of ideology.
Although her description of Hirono as a “partisan” is accurate, Lingle’s attempt at her recent press conference to characterize Hirono as being an “insider” is a curious choice.
The term “insider” is used loosely in politics, and both parties gleefully sling it at each other. But in the case of a possible senator, it could prove to be a much-desired trait. Lingle’s own campaign seems to confirm that, touting Daniel Inouye’s $200 million in 2010 earmarks in an attempt to minimize Hirono’s accomplishments that year.
As chairman of both the Senate Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on Defense, Daniel Inouye is most certainly an “insider.” Given that Lingle has been attempting to tout her own ability to secure federal dollars for Hawaii, referring to Hirono in that manner seems like a compliment.
Lingle’s campaign has also been quick to characterize Hirono as a “no show” in the US House of Representatives. A check of Hirono’s record in the US House shows that she has in fact missed 127 opportunities to cast a vote this year. Hirono has spent much of 2012 campaigning, and the majority of those votes appear to have been missed as her contest against Ed Case raced to a finish in July.
Much noise has also been made by Lingle over Hirono’s reluctance to participate in televised debates, a criticism often repeated by Hirono’s primary opponent, Ed Case. But Hirono appears to be emerging from her shell for the general election.
Both Hirono and Lingle have agreed to five debates, the first of which will be held by the Japanese Chamber of Commerce this Thursday, September 6th.