It’s only been eight years since Republican Linda Lingle was elected to her second term as governor of Hawaii. But her success in that race overestimates the GOP’s chances in future statewide elections, including this year’s gubernatorial race.
Lingle was Republicans’ best possible candidate for Senate last cycle, and she was crushed, 63 percent to 37 percent, by Democratic Rep. Mazie K. Hirono. That should give anyone pause when handicapping former Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona’s challenge to Democratic Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the fall.
But former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann’s decision to run for governor as an independent changes the math of the race. The Honolulu mayor should be a credible enough candidate to raise the possibility of splitting the Democratic vote with Abercrombie, allowing the Republican, Aiona, to win the race with less than 50 percent of the vote. Hannemann has had his share of election losses, but Abercrombie is a polarizing figure, even within his own party — particularly because of his appointment of Brian Schatz to the Senate over Rep. Colleen Hanabusa after Sen. Daniel K. Inouye died.
Aiona is still a long-shot to win, but Democrats can’t take this race for granted anymore. We’re changing our Rothenberg Political Report /Roll Call rating of the race from Safe Democrat to Democrat Favored .