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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Friday, October 29, 2004

Battle draws Cheney, Gore here

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Vice President Dick Cheney will appear Sunday evening at a Republican rally at the Hawai'i Convention Center, reaching out to undecided voters in a traditionally Democratic state just before the presidential election.

Dick Cheney

Al Gore

Alexandra Kerry
The unexpected visit by the vice president shows that Republicans believe President Bush has a chance at taking Hawai'i's four electoral votes. The state has emerged as a battleground after Hawai'i polls found that Bush and Sen. John Kerry were even and that about 12 percent of likely voters were undecided.

Democrats, who have targeted Hawai'i with TV and radio ads over the past few days, announced that former Vice President Al Gore and Kerry's elder daughter, Alexandra, will appear tonight at a rally and concert at Farrington High School.

Former President Bill Clinton did interviews with Hawai'i TV stations for Kerry on Wednesday.

The attention to Hawai'i, a small state usually far removed from presidential campaigning, indicates how intensely Bush and Kerry are competing for any advantage that might turn the election their way.

"Obviously it means that both Democrats and Republicans think that this thing is in play," said Dan Boylan, a history professor at the University of Hawai'iiWest O'ahu. "They're so close, they have to somehow go after every vote."

Republican presidential candidates have taken Hawai'i only twice since statehood — Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984 — and Bush took only 37 percent of the vote against Gore in 2000. But several analysts suspect there may have been a shift in Hawai'i in 2002 after Linda Lingle became the first Republican governor in 40 years.

Ken Mehlman, Bush's campaign manager, praised Lingle's leadership when he announced the Cheney visit in a conference call with the governor and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona at Hawai'i GOP headquarters yesterday afternoon. He also said the Bush campaign would be making recorded telephone appeals from the president to Hawai'i voters.

Cheney is also expected to visit other potential swing states in the West, stopping in New Mexico before Hawai'i and traveling afterward to Colorado and Nevada.

Details of the Cheney event in Honolulu were still being developed. The vice president is scheduled to appear at about 11 p.m.

"I believe President Bush is best for our country, to keep us safe, to keep the economy strong," Lingle told reporters.

The governor said Bush's strong response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may appeal to the military community and people here who are still deeply affected by the Japanese strike on Pearl Harbor in 1941. She also believes that Bush's tax cuts have helped the state's economy and that No Child Left Behind, a federal education law, has brought more accountability to the state's public schools.

Democrats for Bush

The Advertiser's Hawai'i Poll found that nearly a third of the voters who said they were supporting Bush were Democrats. Yet, the poll also showed, more than half believe that the Bush administration misled the nation about the need for war and do not believe that the war made the United States safer.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawai'i, said the deployment of thousands of Hawai'i soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq may have made people more hesitant to oppose Bush, out of loyalty to the commander in chief during a war. He also said that Kerry is not as familiar to Hawai'i voters.

"We had to establish Senator Kerry as a presence in the state," Abercrombie said.

The congressman also said he believes that Hawai'i Republicans have grown more confident since Lingle's victory. "They have been energized after they got over the idea that they could never win anything," he said.

Voter registration here, and history, has favored Democrats. More than half of the 600 likely voters who responded to the Hawai'i Poll said they were Democrats, while 22 percent described themselves as Republicans and 21 percent said they were independents. A separate Advertiser analysis of the 21,000 new voters who registered since the September primary found that more than 13,500 live in state House districts held by Democrats, another possible Kerry advantage.

"I think it's more than likely that the undecided vote is going to cut Democratic," Boylan said.

Brickwood Galuteria, the chairman of the Hawai'i Democratic Party, said the visit by Gore and Alexandra Kerry is directed at undecided voters. The pair will appear at the Farrington event along with Abercrombie. Jordan Segundo, a Farrington graduate who performed on the television show "American Idol," will also appear.

Alexandra Kerry is also scheduled to wave signs tomorrow morning outside Jarrett Middle School in Palolo.

Seeking every vote

Galuteria said the rally is "a great chance for the Kerry campaign to get its message out to people who haven't made up their minds yet."

He said the Republican decision to send Cheney to Hawai'i may be a miscalculation. "They are sending the most polarizing figure in America. That sounds pretty desperate to me," Galuteria said. "But everyone is kicking and scratching for every vote.

"This just underscores the fact that every vote is important."

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8070.