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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 29, 2002

Hirono gaining on Lingle's lead in governor's race

 •  Poll results: Reasons for choosing their candidate

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau Chief

Five weeks before the election, Republican Linda Lingle has a slight lead over Democrat Mazie Hirono, but Hirono is gaining ground, according to The Honolulu Advertiser/News 8 Hawai'i Poll.

The Hawai'i Poll found Lingle's support has been flat for almost four months, while Hirono has nearly halved the 15-point lead that Lingle held in early June.

In an important piece of good news for Lingle, the Hawai'i Poll shows she is winning support from almost half of the people who voted for state Rep. Ed Case in the Sept. 21 Democratic primary. Slightly more than a third of the people who voted for Case said they would vote for Hirono if the election were held today, and the rest are undecided.

Campaigning on a promise to change the culture of state government, Case finished surprisingly strong in the Democratic primary, barely losing to Hirono. A critical question afterward was where the 74,000 voters who had favored him would land in the Nov. 5 general election.

Ward Research Inc. of Honolulu conducted the telephone survey of 604 registered voters statewide, last Monday through Thursday. The poll's margin of error is 4 percentage points, meaning that a survey of all registered voters in Hawai'i would vary from the results by as much as 4 percentage points. That means the candidates could be virtually tied at this point.

"I'm glad to be leading at this point, but we know this is going to be a tough race that's going to go down to the wire," Lingle said.

She believes Hirono may have advanced in the polls recently through the appeal of her running mate, state Sen. Matt Matsunaga.

Lingle, who is running with former Circuit Court judge Duke Aiona for lieutenant governor, recently has accused Hirono of avoiding debates. She said that if Hirono continues to refuse to debate, voters will abandon her.

Hirono has said she will choose when to debate Lingle.

"She doesn't seem to have gained anything, and we've gained," Hirono said. "And she's already spent $3 million, so it's very encouraging.

"But again, the only poll we're looking at is the one on Election Day, so I want all our supporters to go out and vote."

Hirono said she would try to convince more of the Case voters that she is their kind of candidate, but the poll shows she already has done reasonably well among members of that group, she said.

Gregory Gaydos, associate professor of political science at Hawai'i Pacific University, said he expected Lingle to have a larger lead at this stage. Lingle already has spent far more money than any other candidate, has advertised extensively and faced no serious opposition in the Republican primary.

The former Maui mayor is well-known and generally respected after losing an extremely close race to Gov. Ben Cayetano in 1998. Those factors, coupled with dissatisfaction with the status quo, tend to work in Lingle's favor, Gaydos said.

"If people really wanted change, if they thought things were broken and needed to be fixed, you would have to go with Ed Case or you have to go with Linda Lingle," Gaydos said. "So the fact that (Hirono) is up that high this early is a real good sign for her, I'd say."

When respondents favoring Lingle were asked why, 68 percent said they believed she represented the best hope for change.

When those favoring Hirono were asked why, the answers split, with 30 percent saying her party is closest to their views and another 30 percent citing her position on issues important to them. Twenty-two percent said she represented the best hope for change.

Lingle's support is strongest on O'ahu, and she is preferred by most Caucasian voters and people between the ages of 35 and 54.

Hirono is strongest on the Neighbor Islands, and is backed by most Filipino American and Japanese American voters, according to the poll.

The poll results this year have been surprisingly similar to those in the Lingle-Cayetano matchup in 1998. Then, Lingle started the summer with a 20-point lead, and saw that collapse by November.

That race was characterized by a dramatic shift in "union households," where one or more people belongs to a union, and among voters between the ages of 18 and 35.

Many people in those groups switched from Lingle to Cayetano in the final months of the campaign.

The latest poll shows a similar pattern this year, with Hirono gaining support among members of union households and younger voters in the past four months, at Lingle's expense.

Still, Lingle still has the support of 37 percent of union households, compared with 48 percent for Hirono.

Gaydos said Hawai'i voters have had a habit for decades of flirting with "dramatic change" candidates, considering them, then backing away as the election draws near. He said the poll may be picking up on that pattern again.

"People are really into a cloistered 'us guys together' mentality, so whenever somebody comes in who's going to change things or represent change — like Tom Gill back in 1970 or Linda Lingle in the last two elections — I think it frightens people, and they want to stay with what they know," Gaydos said.

Reach Kevin Dayton at kdayton@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.

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