Election Day 2010 Post-Mortems

So why did what happened happen on Hawaii’s General Election Day 2010? The answers go well beyond my quota of MidWeek words, but let us begin:

Incumbency triumphed, as it almost always does. Hawaii Republicans fielded their most complete set of candidates in recent years. But 45 of the 51 members of the state House were incumbent Democrats; nine of the 13 members of the Senate up for re-election enjoyed the same status. In three of the four contests for open Senate seats, Democrats had two well-known County Council members and a state representative on the ballot. All faced relatively – or totally – unknown opponents.

But incumbency means more than name recognition. It means money: money for signs, money for mailers, money for cookbooks, money for “walking pieces” of campaign literature, money to buy bentos for your sign-waving crews and – in some Senate districts – even money for radio spots. The money, of course, comes from all those fine folks who hang on the railings of the State Capitol building during legislative sessions.

Barack Obama helped Hawaii Democrats. With a 61 percent approval rating in the land of his birth, Obama’s endorsement of Neil Abercrombie and Colleen Hanabusa lifted them in the final weeks of the campaign. Congressional Democrats from Ohio to Minnesota to Arkansas may have been running away from him, but Hawaii’s Democrats kept the faith. Every time U.S. Rep. Charles Djou criticized one of Obama’s programs, he racked up another vote for Democrat Colleen Hanabusa. And Abercrombie built his successful gubernatorial campaign on a script stolen from Obama: “Hope and change,” he said. “And this campaign is not about me.”

Too much religion hurt the GOP. From U.S. Senate candidate Cam Cavasso to the gubernatorial ticket of Duke Aiona and Lynn Finnegan to state party chairman Jonah Ka’auwai to the majority of their legislative candidates, Republicans wore their religion on their sleeves. They defined themselves as the party of values – conservative Christian values – which included red-shirted opposition to civil unions.

Such an approach may provide a base for the Republican Party and a supply of candidates, but it smacks of theocracy to mainline Christian voters, Buddhists, Muslims and those dreaded secular humanists: all of whom feel they are people with values as well. And religion-on-the-sleeve politics in culturally diverse Hawaii runs counter to the Islands’most important value: tolerance.

The Hawaii Democratic Party’s “coordinated campaign” also contributed to the Republicans’undoing. It’s a fearsome thing, and it proved a crushing force in the final weeks of the general election campaign.

In the 10 days following the Sept. 18 primary election, both the Aiona and Djou campaigns seemed to have the momentum. Abercrombie’s ads had gone off the air.Aiona and Djou signs appeared everywhere.

Then the Democrats’coordinated campaign began. Party activists, women’s groups, union members, and primary election winners and losers coordinated their rallies, their canvassing, their money and their sign-waving. Defeated congressional candidate Ed Case went door-to-door for Abercrombie and waved with Hanabusa. Vanquished gubernatorial candidate Mufi Hannemann sang at coordinated Filipino rallies and made a television ad for vanquisher Abercrombie. On election day, 30,000 unreliable Democratic voters were contacted and offered a ride to the polls.

The Republicans had the misfortune of owning the governorship when the nation’s economy tanked.In Hawaii, Republican Linda Lingle presided over the layoffs, budget cuts and furlough Fridays of our now two-year-old recession. Was she to blame for it? No, but in Hawaii she was in office and she, her LG and the GOP – like Obama and the Democrats on the Mainland – paid the price.

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