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In Democratic-dominated Hawaii, it may have seemed odd for Rep. Mazie Hirono (D) to tout the endorsement of a Republican Congressman less than three weeks before her party’s primary for the state’s open Senate seat.
But even in a state where the Congressional delegation consistently supports Democratic policies and President Barack Obama should win by a wide margin, the ability to work across party lines on behalf of Hawaii’s interests is an attractive message for voters across the political spectrum, Hirono and her campaign said Wednesday.
“They like to see all of us working together to get things done,” Hirono told Roll Call in an interview.
The Congresswoman said Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) reached out to her to see what he could do on her behalf, including offering to film an ad with her. Their relationship was forged largely out of a joint amendment they pushed early last year to secure federal funding for education programs for native Hawaiians and native Alaskans.
“This is a real example of how I got things done in a bipartisan way,” Hirono said, attempting to emphasize her bipartisan credentials despite voting with her party 99 percent of the time in her first two terms in the House and voting with Obama 95 percent of the time in 2009 and 2010.
Hirono has establishment support and a huge fundraising advantage. The Congresswoman’s internal polling has shown her with a wide lead over former Rep. Ed Case for the Democratic nomination. But the race isn’t over.
Waiting for the winner is former two-term Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who has spent the past several months reaching out to independents and conservative Democrats in an effort to win crossover voters who will likely back Obama.
Young’s endorsement serves as a general election buffer for Hirono, who has been hit from both sides for her connections to the Democratic establishment. She has been endorsed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, is a member of the liberal Congressional Progressive Caucus and is a dependable vote for her party.
The lighthearted ad with Young shows Hirono and the Alaska Republican in a comfortable working relationship. He jokingly wants to voice his negative opinion of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — before Hirono stops him — and touts Hirono’s efforts for both Hawaii and the Last Frontier.
“The main issue that we’re trying to underscore here is that Washington has a lot of serious problems — the partisanship is one of the biggest obstacles to getting things done,” Hirono pollster Pete Brodnitz said. “While Mazie is someone who is a Democrat and proud to vote with the president and his agenda, she also sets partisanship aside to do the right thing for Hawaii.”
Lingle and Case released statements Tuesday night highlighting their own records of bipartisanship and accomplishment.
“Please compare Mazie and me on leadership: our actions, not just our words,” Case said. “Then ask who can get the job done for us all in the Senate.”
Lingle campaign manager Bob Lee referred to Young as one of the House’s “most controversial Members, who even Mazie’s fellow Democrats have criticized on a range of ethics and spending issues.” Lee also said the campaign looks forward to comparing the records of Lingle and the eventual Democratic nominee.
“Gov. Lingle is proud of her long, proven record of bipartisanship, stretching over 25 years of public service to the people of Hawaii,” he said.
Hirono ended the second quarter with $2 million in cash on hand. Case, who is running for this seat again after falling short in his challenge to Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) in 2006, ended with just $252,000.
Brodnitz maintained that the campaign still believes Hirono has a double-digit lead over Case in the primary and that there has been no credible evidence to the contrary to change that feeling. The campaign’s latest poll had Hirono up 15 points.
In an email to Roll Call, Case pointed to polls conducted for him and Lingle that showed the primary far closer.
“We feel very good going into these final weeks considering that, despite the strategy of Hirono and her supporters to ignore and marginalize us, we are running even with her,” he said.
Case, a former Blue Dog, has worked to paint himself as the Democrat best able to defeat Lingle. He has been unable to compete financially so far in the primary, but he said he has been much more visible on the trail than Hirono. They will meet tonight for a fifth and final debate.
Still, the Young endorsement brought national attention to a primary that’s so far flown under the radar, and the Hirono campaign believes it will provide a boost both on Aug. 11 and in November.
“Mazie has been very clear that she supports the party, she supports the president, but Hawaii is her main focus,” Brodnitz said. “We think this really demonstrates that.”