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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, October 4, 2002

McDermott plans new strategy

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON — With little money or party support, state Rep. Bob McDermott was already an underdog in his challenge to venerable U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawai'i. But when Mink died Saturday, he was left with the uncomfortable task of competing against her memory.

"It's a delicate situation," said McDermott, who is here this week to make Republican contacts and raise money. "We're talking about a human being that has passed away. My prayers are with her family."

Mink's name will stay on the Nov. 5 general election ballot, and Democrats have asked voters to back her as a tribute, creating an unusual situation for McDermott and the two minor-party candidates who remain in the 2nd District race. The campaign likely will have no public debates and few direct references to Mink's voting record or performance serving rural O'ahu and the Neighbor Islands.

McDermott, 39, of Foster Village, said he decided to pull his campaign advertising and take down his Internet Web site this week out of respect for the late congresswoman. He plans to unveil a new campaign strategy next week that likely will focus on his experience as a Persian Gulf War veteran and conservative state legislator.

"The campaign is going to be positive," he said. "I'm not running against her now."

The Hawai'i Republican Party has provided only lukewarm support to McDermott, who admitted he was a long-shot well before Mink died. The National Republican Congressional Committee will decide over the next few weeks whether to invest in McDermott's campaign.

"It's a race we're keeping our eye on," said Lea Anne McBride, an NRCC spokeswoman.

While rare, it is not unprecedented for voters to elect politicians who have died. Three House lawmakers have been re-elected posthumously. Missouri Gov. Mel Carnahan died in a plane crash a few weeks before the 2000 election but still defeated then-U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft in a Senate campaign. Carnahan's wife, Jean, was appointed her husband's replacement.

Don Young was a state senator from rural Alaska running for Congress in 1972 when his opponent, U.S. Rep. Nick Begich, D-Alaska, disappeared and was presumed dead in a plane crash. Young chose to stop campaigning for two weeks and he believes the decision cost him the election.

Young later won a special election to replace Begich and has served in Congress for nearly three decades, rising to chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. He said he would have even greater seniority, and more power to help his state had he campaigned aggressively and won the initial election.

"He was dead. It has always been humiliating," Young said. "If I had to do it all over again, I would have done it differently for the good of the state."

McDermott said he would focus on his existing campaign but is also entering the special election to fill the remainder of Mink's term, which ends Jan. 3, to keep his political options open. He said he is disappointed that Democrats would continue to back Mink's re-election to preserve their chances of holding the seat. If voters re-elect Mink, another special election would be held Jan. 4 to pick her successor.

"If that was my mom, I wouldn't let them do that," he said. "Let her rest in peace. Treat her with some dignity."