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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, November 17, 2002

Explaining why Hirono lost the race

By Jerry Burris
Advertiser Editorial Editor

This four-year political conversation will be one Linda Lingle enjoys much more than the last one.

For the past four years, political Monday morning quarterbacks sorted through Lingle's painfully close loss to Democrat Ben Cayetano in the 1998 gubernatorial election.

Since she lost by only around 5,000 votes, almost any explanation has had some credence. She lost because Democrats hung Newt Gingrich around her neck. She lost because some moderates were turned off that her running mate was a social conservative. She lost because she stopped spending money in the final days of the campaign.

She lost because she failed to "close the deal" by offering one last fresh incentive to voters who were ready to give the Republicans a chance.

So what made the difference this time around?

Despite gathering fewer total votes than she did in 1998, Lingle beat her Democratic opponent, Mazie Hirono, by a far heftier margin than she lost by last time.

It's tough to translate those numbers any way but this: The 2002 elections weren't so much about more Republicans as they were about fewer Democrats. Some Democrats stayed home out of apathy or disgust with the way politics has been going.

Others stayed home because they simply saw no need to get out to vote; they were relatively content. Still other potential Democrats didn't vote because they aren't here anymore. They moved to the Mainland in search of opportunities.

It's telling that our low unemployment statistics are attributed not so much to an abundance of jobs as to a real shortage of job-seekers. They've gone elsewhere, taking their vote — or potential vote — with them.

Lingle also won because Hirono got off to a slow start, dropping out of the governor's race and then getting back into it. This hurt her fund-raising abilities and also drained energy from her grassroots organizing.

Another couple hundred thousand dollars and a few more months of grassroots get-out-the-vote organizing, particularly on the Neighbor Islands and in hard-core Democratic districts on O'ahu such as McCully, Kalihi, Moanalua or Waipahu, and who knows what might have happened?

One could go on forever analyzing the factors that pushed Lingle ahead or held Hirono back. One interesting point, however, is that ideas and issues apparently had little to do with deciding the winner or loser.

The two candidates agreed on a broad range of issues and disagreed largely on technique or technical solutions to consensus problems. Perhaps the clearest division between the two is on home rule. Former mayor Lingle is strongly in favor of home rule solutions while former legislator Hirono tended to favor state solutions.

So while the political pros will go forward studying the bones of this election, the voters have moved on. They want to know what kind of government it has brought them.

Reach Jerry Burris through letters@honoluluadvertiser.com.