Hawaii Senate race most competitive since 1970

Not since 1970—when the legendary “Hawaii Five-O” police series was only in the third of its twelve seasons—has Hawaii hosted a competitive U.S. Senate race.

But it would appear on Saturday night that history was about to be repeated, as Aloha State voters nominated Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono to face popular former two-term Gov. and moderate Republican Linda Lingle for an open Senate seat. With veteran Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka stepping down after more than twenty years, polls show the contest between Hirono and Lingle a barn-burner.

“And don’t forget: Lingle has already defeated Hirono before,” John Fund, political columnist for the American Spectator and National Review reminded Human Events on the night before the primary. In 2002, then-Lieutenant Gov. Hirono became the first Democrat to lose the governorship of Hawaii in 43 years when then-Maui Mayor Lingle defeated her by a margin of 52 to 47 percent statewide.

With Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka retiring after more than twenty years, Rep. Hirono (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 0.80 percent) rolled up about 56 percent of the vote over former Rep. Ed Case to win the Democratic primary Saturday. The cousin of AOL founder Steve Case and a political maverick, Case had irked party insiders by challenging the popular Akaka for renomination six years ago.

Lingle, who was unopposed for nomination, has a campaign kitty of more than $2 million. She has also launched her own cable TV network that promotes her candidacy 24 hours a day. Most importantly, Lingle remains a popular figure two years after leaving the statehouse.

In 1970, the state’s last Republican Sen. Hiram Fong staved off defeat in a tight contest with Democrat Cecil Heftel, who owned a TV station and was well-known from his on-air editorials. That was Fong’s last hurrah as well as the last time a Republican won a Senate seat in Hawaii. Now, pundits will be watching from across the nation to see if Linda Lingle can prove Mark Twain’s famed axiom that “history doesn’t always repeat itself, but sometimes, it rhymes.”