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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, August 25, 2002

Campaign unlikely to remain friendly

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor

After their deliberately conspicuous and quite chummy lunch hosted by Sen. Dan Inouye, the three leading Democratic candidates for governor drifted their separate ways.

Some have even complained that this primary is a bit too chummy. Rarely is a disparaging word heard from one candidate about the other. Oh, there are mild rebukes: Andy's lottery proposal is a bad idea; Ed's budget-cutting plans would decimate education; Mazie's boast that she listened to business and cut government red tape is a bit of a stretch.

But for the most part, the candidates have stayed on course and on message.

Part of it is in response to Inouye, who warns a bitter primary would cause bleeding the survivor can ill-afford against the Linda Lingle juggernaut.

Part of it is, simply, that there is no history of bad blood between the three. We have had Democratic primary campaigns where leading candidates represented distinctly different political "camps" with years of hostility behind them.

Think Burns-Gill or Fasi-Ariyoshi, for instance.

That's not in place this year. If anything, the major thing that separates the three candidates is style, which is not something that leads to blood battle.

Mazie Hirono presents herself as the conciliator, the deal-maker and consensus-builder who knows how to work with people to get things done.

Andy Anderson presents himself as the take-charge guy, the business-oriented political pro who wants solutions, not talk.

Ed Case presents himself as the only true agent of change, a truth-teller who is the only one willing to accept that it can no longer be business-as-usual in state government.

It's possible that these three will continue in this vein right through the Primary Election. But don't bet on it.

Human nature, plus the natural gravity of politics, will begin to strip the veneer of civility as election day approaches. And this won't necessarily be all bad.

In addition to hearing what the candidates' own platforms are, it is useful to hear them deconstruct the ideas and management approach of the others.

This doesn't have to be unnecessarily negative. It's possible to take the gloss off the other candidate's platform with civility. The voters would benefit from some cross-talk among and between the three.

The other thing that is likely to happen is that the political forces will begin to coalesce around one of three candidates. This won't happen overtly, necessarily, but it will happen. Subtle — or in the case of union or interest-group endorsements, not-so-subtle — signals will emerge about who is the favored candidate.

By election day, it will be fairly apparent who "they" — meaning the grassroots leaders, the unions, the political fathers — want to carry the Democratic banner into the general.

Ordinarily, that might be seen as just about enough to ensure a victory. But perhaps not in this crazy election year. The voters, as the saying goes, are restless.

Reach Jerry Burris at letters@honoluluadvertiser.com.