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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, January 1, 2006

Will the Democrats find a candidate to run against Gov. Linda Lingle?

 •  The burning questions of 2006

By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Big Island Mayor Harry Kim has earned praise for his grass-roots style of campaigning. He is still considering a run for governor.

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A December poll showed Gov. Linda Lingle had a 62 percent approval rating and is building a $6 million re-election war chest.

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Democrats, who were comfortably in political power for more than a generation, find themselves in a strange position.

Despite months of private talks and back-room cajoling, they do not yet have a single candidate to go up against Republican Gov. Linda Lingle in November. That might not surprise those who follow politics closely, since Lingle had a 62 percent approval rating in December, according to SurveyUSA, and may collect as much as $6 million for her re-election campaign.

SurveyUSA, a New Jersey polling firm, does not include Lingle in the 16 governor's races it considers competitive. The Cook Political Report, an independent newsletter, has had Hawai'i in the "leans Republican" column since it began rating 2006 races in December 2004.

The thinking among some political observers in Hawai'i is that Lingle's formidable polling numbers and fundraising has scared off serious opposition.

U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, banker Walter Dods, retired Army Gen. Eric Shinseki, interim University of Hawai'i President David McClain and labor attorney Tony Gill have all publicly said they will pass. Big Island Mayor Harry Kim and former Honolulu police chief Lee Donohue have said they may be interested.

Other names whisper in and out of political circles with varying degrees of urgency. A public television executive? A Leeward state senator? A former Mililani state senator? A young Makiki lawmaker?

Democrats say they still have some time. They hope Lingle's fundraising especially ritzy events on the Mainland will backfire with locals. They say her approval ratings are inflated. They say most voters are still more comfortable voting for Democrats, since the party picked up seats in the Legislature in both 2002 and 2004 and has kept Hawai'i a blue state in presidential elections.

Privately, though, some Democrats are antsy and wonder whether the different tribes that make up the party have let the decision linger too long.

Will the Democrats find a candidate to run against Gov. Linda Lingle?

Reach Derrick DePledge at ddepledge@honoluluadvertiser.com.