Abercrombie Follows Obama Script
Wednesday - March 18, 2009
Neil Abercrombie has stolen the playbook for his gubernatorial campaign from President Barack Obama. It’s grand theft larceny, no question about it.
“Barack Obama brought hope and change to Washington, D.C. I want to bring hope and change to Washington Place,” Abercrombie said two Sundays ago in announcing his candidacy to supporters and the press at his Ward Avenue headquarters.
Later he would insist, as Obama did at practically every campaign stop in election 2008, “This campaign is not about me.” Abercrombie quoted Taylor Branch, the author of Parting the Waters, a history of the modern civil rights movement, that “a movement is faith in strangers.” And a movement, larger than himself, is what Abercrombie said he was launching.
He urged his supporters to “get involved, get informed and share your thoughts” with the movement. How? Among other ways, obviously, via the Internet. The day before his headquarters press conference, Abercrombie had used the Internet and twitter to announce his candidacy - a la Barack, of course. Like Obama, Abercrombie promised to use the governorship to advance four causes: “Education, the environment, energy and job creation.”
And he stressed his personal ties to the popular president whose “movement” he sought to emulate. “I was for Barack Obama for president before Barack Obama was for Barack Obama for president.” But whether Obama’s formula for electoral success will work for Abercrombie in 2010 remains to be seen. It is not a prefect fit.
First, there is Abercrombie’s age. He is 70. None of Hawaii’s six state governors was near that old when elected to office. And Obama was a hoops-shooting 47-year-old when he was elected president last fall. Indeed, local politicians of Abercrombie’s age - like long-time state representative, senator and ally Ben Cayetano - are writing their memoirs, following the progress of their grandchildren and trying to improve their golf handicaps.
Second, there’s this whole business of “change.” At his announcement press conference, a reporter asked Abercrombie how he, a veteran of 30 years as an elected representative, senator, city councilman and congressman from the state’s majority Democrats, could possibly call himself a “change” candidate. In answering, he sounded aggrieved. “I’ve been a candidate of change for my entire career,” he insisted.
And, to a large extent, he’s right. He entered politics in 1970 as an anti-Vietnam War United States Senate candidate. He entered the state Legislature as a reformer in 1974, and he remained one throughout his 12 years at the Capitol. Then, in 1992, he went off to Washington as the congressman from Hawaii’s First District.
All that most of Hawaii knows about his Washington career is that Abercrombie served on the Armed Services Committee, brought home the bacon for the military in Hawaii and thus complemented nicely in the House of Representatives the considerable skills of Daniel K. Inouye in the Senate. That’s the third problem Abercrombie faces. For almost two decades he’s been laboring out of sight and out of mind in far-off Washington. Oh, the Democratic Party faithful love him - for his roof-raising oratory, for his opposition to the Iraq war, for his consistent liberalism. But a whole generation of young people and new residents hardly know him.
Abercrombie has to reintroduce himself. That will require time and money; the first is difficult to find for a congressman with, as Abercrombie put it, “a 5,000-mile, one-way commute” to his job. And Abercrombie’s funds raised for a federal office are not transferable to a state race. Sure. Why not?
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