A Summer Of Political Speculation

Dan Boylan
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Wednesday - July 12, 2006
| Del.icio.us

The Fourth of July holiday has come and gone, and the filing deadline for elective offices is less than two weeks away. Yet somehow Hawaii’s political landscape seems as serene as a Massachusetts mill pond on a windless day.

How can? Gov. Linda Lingle may be looking at an easy ride to re-election, but Democrats are anguishing over the contest between incumbent U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka and upstart 2nd District Congressman Ed Case.

And when they’re not anguishing (How, exactly, does one anguish? With a grimace, I’m sure. But beyond that?) over their U.S. Senate candidate, Democrats are trying to decide which of eight candidates (Or is it nine or 10 or more?) they want to support to succeed Case as 2nd District congressman.

So why’s it so quiet?

I don’t really know, but allow me a little speculating - maybe a lot of it.

Money - or rather lack of it - is a big part of the problem. The work of former Campaign Spending Commission executive director Bob Watada has hurt everyone’s ability to raise funds. The architects and engineers, consulting firms and businesses - all are chary about writing checks, and certainly about writing checks in the name of their aunties, uncles, four kids and a grandchild or two.

So with the exception of gazillionaire Republican congressional candidate Quentin Kawananakoa, nobody has the dollars to spend just yet. Case ran some television advertisements following his initial announcement that said, in essence: “Look, I’m here,” but nothing since. Akaka’s done some radio and a full-page or two to explicate his differences with Case on the Iraq war, but otherwise nothing.

I’ve been to a couple of congressional fund-raisers recently, and neither was well-attended. Good pupus went unconsumed.

Also contributing to the silence may be (now here I’m really breathing speculative vapors) that people have already made up their minds. The first non-candidate-or-party-commissioned poll ran in Honolulu’s morning paper last week, and it was remarkable for the small percentage of voters who said they were undecided in the Democratic Party’s Senate contest.

Fifty-one percent favored Akaka, 40 percent Case, and only 9 percent said they were undecided. Nine percent! A dozen years ago an end-of-June poll would more likely have shown 25 percent undecided.

The difference here should give Case reason to pause. Historically, the haole candidate in a Democratic primary race - be his name Fasi or Heftel or, in this case, Case - got his biggest vote in the first poll. The large numbers of undecideds would then cast their ballots in September for Ariyoshi or Waihee.

In this one, only 9 percent say they’re undecided, and - if past trends hold - they are likely to break for Akaka.

That said, of course, Case would argue - after Linda Lingle - that Hawaii’s political landscape has been transformed. Demographically, it is decidedly more haole. Generationally, it has long ago abandoned the resentments of the plantation.

And Case is right to a degree. But the big difference, really, is in himself.

The little engine of ambition never ceases to run in Congressman Case. This is, after all, Case’s fifth election contest in as many years: one for governor and one for Congress in 2002, another for Congress in 2003, a re-election congressional race in 2004, and the U.S. Senate race this year. Not even Frank Fasi could match that level of aspiring.

And Case is, like Lingle, a practitioner of the perpetual campaign; his round after round of “talk story” meetings between campaigns provides the best example. Case the campaigner does not rest.

But Akaka must. Eighty-one-year-olds cannot keep pace with Case’s relentless campaigning. It’s in the campaign itself, more than the service as a senator, that age becomes the issue.

So there’s my speculatin’for the quiet time. If I’m proven right, remember how wise I am. If wrong, tear above into little bits, chew vigorously for 10 minutes, and swallow.

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