By David Shapiro
Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono is leading a charmed political life in her bid to become the fourth straight Hawai'i governor to rise from the state's No. 2 job.
Just 10 months ago, Hirono dropped out of the 2002 governor's race in a tacit admission that she couldn't win the Democratic primary against Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, then the front-runner.
Now Harris is long gone and Hirono is back in the race running in cruise control as her opponents, state Rep. Ed Case and D.G. "Andy" Anderson, escort her on an amazingly smooth ride to likely victory in the Sept. 21 primary election.
While Republican Linda Lingle will go into the general election campaign with a hefty lead in the polls, it's foolhardy to dismiss the chances of the Democratic candidate. The party and its union backers have a long record of appealing to old loyalties and pulling out come-from-behind victories.
Hirono must go to sleep every night marveling, "Does this state have a great political system, or what?"
After quitting the governor's race in November, Hirono became a candidate for Harris' mayoral job and ran an uninspired campaign for six months, languishing third in the polls behind Mufi Hannemann and Duke Bainum, by their accounts.
Then Hirono's luck changed. Harris, dogged by investigations into his campaign finances, decided in May not to run for governor.
Hirono quickly jumped back in, occupying the space before anybody else could. By virtue of her name recognition, statewide organization and a weakened field, she became the new front-runner by default.
Since then, everything has gone her way. Efforts by some Democratic leaders to recruit a stronger new candidate failed, mainly because Hirono's swift re-entry left little room for another candidate to make a credible run.
Case and Anderson have mounted feeble challenges, hampered by lack of funding and pressure from party leaders to avoid criticizing fellow Democrats.
The resulting low-key campaign has suited Hirono fine, allowing her to sit comfortably on her lead while giving Democratic voters time to forget the indecisiveness and opportunism she displayed by jumping in and out of the race.
A virtually invisible figure for most of her two terms as Ben Cayetano's lieutenant governor, she's now reinventing herself as a bold leader and experienced decision-maker who's been in the middle of the action the past eight years.
Hirono has offered little specific agenda on key issues facing the state, saying vaguely that she'll bring people together to work on solutions to our problems.
Incredibly, neither Case nor Anderson has directly challenged her to document the credentials she claims as a decision-maker and facilitator, or to be more specific on how she'd handle the contentious concerns facing the next governor.
When Hirono cited her role in repealing a defective medical records law as evidence of her leadership skill, it took a news report not her opponents to point out that Hirono was the acting governor who signed the faulty bill into law in the first place.
Anderson talks about peaking at the right time, and Case hopes crossover votes from Republicans and independents will carry him to victory. But it won't likely happen for either of them if they don't remove the kid gloves and take the fight to Hirono in the final two weeks of the campaign.
Hirono, too, would benefit from a chance to show if she can stand up to the intense scrutiny of her record that Lingle will certainly bring to bear in the general election.
David Shapiro can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.