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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 17, 2006

Case needs late surge to unseat Akaka

Jerry Burris
Public Affairs Editor

As we keep saying, polls are only good for the time they are taken. But they still represent the best if imperfect measurement of what people are thinking on the issues.

The latest Hawai'i Poll, which drilled in on the marquee race between Daniel Akaka and Ed Case for the Democratic senatorial nomination, makes it clear Case needs a substantial last-minute surge to overtake the incumbent.

As government writer Derrick DePledge reports, the race has been virtually stagnant since it began. Advertising, canvassing, one high-profile debate and relentless campaigning have done little to dislodge a steady 10 point-or-so advantage for Akaka in the minds of voters inclined to take a Democratic ballot on Saturday.

HARD CORE FOR AKAKA

Case has focused heavily on independent, nominal Democratic and even waffling Republican voters. There has been little doubt that old-line, hard-core Democrats would stick with Akaka. You see that in the list of Democratic A-list types such as U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye and former Gov. George Ariyoshi who endorsed Akaka.

The poll indicates Case may have some opportunities among those who do not think of themselves as hard-line Democrats.

About a quarter of those who told the poll they intended to pull a Democratic ballot on Saturday described themselves as independents or nominal Republicans.

That's Case country. And indeed, he grabbed a majority of both categories. But not by overwhelming numbers, and not enough to outweigh the strong Akaka vote among the three-quarters who call themselves steady Democrats.

Case's challenge, then, would be to convince far more nominal Republicans and those who think of themselves as independents to jump into the Democratic primary.

Expect to see a much stronger pitch to these groups in the waning days of the campaign.

Case has a shot at the independents, although the problem here is that by nature they think of themselves as above partisan politics and thus are somewhat less likely to participate in a party primary.

He is less likely to make inroads among Republicans since they have been urged by their leader, Gov. Linda Lingle, to stay "home" within their own primary.

In short, this looks like the same kind of race Case faced in his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination against Mazie Hirono four years ago. He had broad popular support that might have translated well in the general election, but while he came close he couldn't crack the nut of the Democratic primary.

The poll also suggests that the Akaka campaign has done well at maintaining, maybe even coddling, its base.

For instance, the Akaka forces have made a determined effort, using Inouye's name and reputation, to encourage early absentee voting in his core strength areas.

STRATEGY WORKING

That strategy appears to be working. Among those who told the poll they intend to vote absentee, far more back Akaka than Case.

The strongest intention for absentee voting was shown by Japanese-American respondents, who are among Akaka's strongest supporters.

There is little evidence that the themes advanced by the two campaigns have made much difference in the race. People have heard the themes, understand them and dutifully cite the themes that match up with their chosen candidate.

Thus, the importance of "transition" tilts strongly to Case voters, while the importance of "seniority" and "respect for the candidate" is massively more important to Akaka backers.

But none of the themes appear to be deal-breakers.

What matters most, the poll respondents told us in all seriousness, is a candidate's stand on the issues. That's particularly true for Case supporters.

Looking at the poll from a demographic point of view, Akaka tops Case among almost all demographic groups, including age, income and ethnicity. The one exception is Caucasian voters, who tilt narrowly to Case.

Again, this could be a problem for Case, since experience shows Caucasians, who are more likely to be newcomers to the Islands, are somewhat less likely to vote than old-timers particularly in the primary.

Bottom line, there are votes there to be harvested by Ed Case, but the question is whether he has the time, money or logistics in place to do it these final days of the campaign.

Reach Jerry Burris at jburris@honoluluadvertiser.com.