Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 25, 2002

No big bucks — no big bang

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

This primary election offers a stark lesson on the role that money plays in modern Hawai'i politics.

Experienced political hands say the Democratic primary is on the verge of stalling for a lack of cash in a generally quiet season.

This may come as a surprise to the three leading candidates, who are racing from media interviews to union gatherings to candidate forums to coffee hours at a pace that can grind down even the toughest political pro.

But those efforts are not enough, said Don Clegg, a veteran pollster working for Democratic candidates in this election.

The candidates may think the campaign is screaming along, but the voters can barely hear it, he said.

Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono had about $300,000 on hand just 11 weeks before the primary.

Advertise library photo

"In a statewide governor's race you cannot reach the number of voters that you need to reach by personal appearances," Clegg said. "While that may be a satisfying way of reaching the public from a more academic standpoint, it just isn't that effective in terms of total vote-getting.

"In terms of total vote-getting, when you have that many voters that you are trying to deal with, you need the mass media to get your message across."

That takes big money, but the three Democrats don't have it. As of June 30, the best-financed of them was Mazie Hirono, who had only about $300,000 on hand just 11 weeks before the primary. Ed Case and D.G. "Andy" Anderson each had less than one-third that amount, but Republican Linda Lingle had about $1.1 million.

In the first six months of this year, the three Democrats combined spent about $712,000. By comparison, Lingle alone spent about $970,000 in the same period.

The lack of money shows up in the lack of print and broadcast advertising a month before the primary, with Case almost entirely absent from the airwaves and Hirono and Anderson buying only limited air time for about a half-dozen ads that each have fielded. Lingle has bought considerably more broadcast, print and Internet advertising.

Rep. Ed Case had less than $100,000 11 weeks before the primary election.

Advertise library photo

"What this shows is the dependence that the campaigns have on money," said Laure Dillon, president of Hawai'i Clean Elections, a nonpartisan group that has been lobbying for years for public financing of campaigns. "Without it, they are dead in the water."

The Democrats likely will attempt a bigger ad push in the final weeks before the primary election Sept. 21, but thus far in the campaign, "there's not a lot to watch," said Paul Hooper, chairman of the department of American studies at the University of Hawai'i. Hooper has worked on local political campaigns over the years, usually helping Republican candidates.

"People can have debates and people can go to community meetings and whatnot, and that doesn't cost very much money, but if you're going to really get your voice out there in this day and age, you have to do it through the television and newspapers, and that costs money," Hooper said.

Clegg said limited advertising usually has a limited effect because viewers need to watch a television spot repeatedly before they absorb its message. Occasional print or TV news stories about the campaigns don't have the same effect because they are not sustained, and don't offer the candidates a chance to pound home their points, he said.

To be sure, there are other factors at work to keep the primary election extraordinarily quiet.

D.G. "Andy" Anderson, like Ed Case, also had less than $100,000 11 weeks before the primary.

Advertise library photo

The Democrats have been careful not to attack each other in ways that would cause new rifts in the party and make it more difficult to put up a unified front against Lingle after the primary. Their polite and cheerful campaigning has generated little controversy and got relatively little media coverage.

A confrontation between Lingle and the Democrats would attract more press coverage, but Lingle will not appear at any forum with Hirono, Case and Anderson.

A spokesman for her campaign said Lingle has committed to attend at least nine forums and other public events with the Democratic nominee after the primary, but won't scrap with the Democrats now because she's running against them yet. Lingle has her own primary race to run against former state Sen. John Carroll.

There may also be some other factors at work both here and on the Mainland that make this election year less alluring than usual for the public, Hooper said. Indeed, with the exception of hot gubernatorial and congressional races in a handful of states, many national political observers say they are seeing 2002 shaping up as one of the quietest elections in years.

"The whole country is sort of caught up in the same thing Hawai'i is," Hooper said. "There's a certain kind of post-traumatic stress syndrome afoot in the wake of 9/11 (and) the business-related scandals which have shaken people to their very roots. ... The usual political carnival that comes with an election year is less important in that context."

Overall, Clegg said he thinks the current state of affairs helps Hirono, who has high name recognition from her eight years as lieutenant governor, and started the race with a double-digit lead in the polls over the other Democrats.

Dillon said the quiet nature of the election season shows the need for publicly financed campaigns that allow candidates to get their messages out. She said that "it would appear at this point ... if we want to hear from the candidates, we need to provide them with money so we can hear from them."

Advertiser reporter Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report. Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.