Sturdy campaign worked for Lingle
By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief
When they found some, they poured it on.
"We told them, 'We lost by eight votes a precinct (in 1998) and you could be part of that eight,' " Kane said yesterday. "They got in that car and they went to vote. I probably ran into 10 couples in Pauoa Valley and was able to convince them to vote."
Lingle's gubernatorial campaign culminated Tuesday with a strong push for turnout in Republican neighborhoods that allowed her to win the race, cracking the Democratic hold on power since 1962. In what was forecast to be a race too close to call, Lingle beat Democrat Mazie Hirono by more than 17,000 votes, which to most political observers qualified as a blowout.
To Republicans, Lingle's stunning victory was a testament to the power of more than four years of tireless campaigning and exhaustive, glamourless organizational work. It also proved the value of some hard lessons learned in Lingle's unsuccessful 1998 campaign against Gov. Ben Cayetano.
To Democrats, the loss of the race says more about the power of Lingle's money, and the damage done by a divisive Democratic primary between Hirono, state Rep. Ed Case and businessman D.G. "Andy" Anderson.
Kane said that after the loss to Cayetano in 1998 by 5,000 votes, Lingle and her party launched what became an enormous effort that collected the names of about 160,000 people who at some time had indicated they liked Lingle.
In an innovation designed by Lingle campaign manager Bob Awana, the campaign then converted that list into the foundation for an extremely effective get-out-the-vote effort.
On Election Day, Republican poll watchers determined who the likely Lingle supporters were who had not yet voted, then relayed names to phone banks and neighborhood canvassing teams, which then tracked down the individuals and nudged them to the polls.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
Roland Ibous, 7, of Waipahu, scored an autograph from the governor-elect of Hawai'i early yesterday.
Eugene Tanner The Honolulu Advertiser
At the same time, some political observers believe that the Democrats' turnout tapered off this year.
Randy Perreira, deputy executive director of the Hawai'i Government Employees Association, said people may have been frustrated with the Cayetano administration and with government corruption scandals involving Democrats this year.
Cayetano's contentious relationship with public worker unions a traditional segment of the Democratic base also had an effect, although labor generally stuck with the Democrats, Perreira said.
"My gut feeling is, for the most part, labor delivered, but I would be naive to think that there wasn't any erosion," he said. "There had to have been. I'm sure that there was a segment of labor that either chose not to vote, which is the likelier course, or voted for Lingle.
"Republicans have been campaigning for eight years and they refined their message. The message of change resonated. By the time I think Mazie got around to articulating her message in a clearer way, it was kind of late in the campaign, relatively speaking."
Kane said the Republicans' well-publicized effort to seize control of the 51-member state House also forced the Democrats to divert resources to the House races that otherwise could have been used to provide additional help to Hirono.
"It spread their troops out, and that was our strategy early on," Kane said, but clearly the Republicans' resources were also strained. They started the campaign with 19 House seats but ended up with 15.
Awana said the Lingle campaign had an enormous head start over the 1998 effort. Four years ago, the Lingle camp had to build an organization from scratch on every island but Maui, where Lingle already had a structure in place from her eight years as mayor.
This year, the campaign was able to take the 1998 apparatus and build on it, which was critical, Awana said.
Money was also a help, Kane said, with the Republicans carefully monitoring the media ads by the Hirono campaign and making sure they matched or bettered them.
The Republicans also made sure they had a strong ending to the campaign, in contrast to 1998 when Lingle ran out of money and her ad campaign dropped off the air in the final stretch.
There was a similar pattern in the direct-mail campaign, Awana said. In 1998, the Lingle campaign sent out about 100,000 direct-mail pieces in one shot, but this year it fielded more than 2 million pieces.
Robert Toyofuku, Hirono's campaign manager, said the Republicans' money clearly helped them, while the Hirono campaign had little until late in the race. That made it very difficult to plan a media campaign.
"I think we ran a very good campaign, though, in terms of a grassroots campaign, for the money we had," said Toyofuku, who noted that Democrats "had a fairly contested primary and Linda didn't."
He said the Hirono campaign was hobbled after the primary because it was unable to fold Case's campaign organization into Hirono's. Case quickly decided to run for the vacant seat of the late U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, and his campaign workers followed him into that new race, Toyofuku said.
But even without the congressional campaign, it's not clear how enthusiastically Case embraced the Hirono campaign. Days after the primary, he was still pushing Hirono to more aggressively challenge the status quo, and expressed disappointment that she was not calling for fundamental change in the way government is run.
With his attacks on Hirono before the primary, Case also unwittingly provided the Republicans with effective TV soundbites that they used to their advantage in commercials, Perreira said.
Other Democrats, including Cayetano, pointed to Lingle's ability to seize and hold the theme of "change," a word that carried considerable power in the campaign.
"There was not enough talk about the good things that we had done," Cayetano said. "So you let people control the so-called change agenda, then you're always reactive, you're always defensive."
Don Clegg, a pollster and political consultant who worked for the Democrats this year, said his polling showed Hirono with a slight lead through last Thursday, then showed Lingle on the upswing Friday and Saturday, with Hirono suddenly trailing by 10 percentage points.
Clegg said that after reviewing the campaigns, he concluded some undecided voters were troubled by President Clinton's visit last week on behalf of Democrats.
Hirono disagreed, saying Clinton was a president who supported working people and Hawai'i, so his visit was a positive that brought out Democratic supporters.
U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye said: "I would think that the Clinton visit did some good because if I saw what I saw the crowds and heard the noise, enthusiasm was at a high pitch. I've never seen it like that way for a long time."