Political Winners, Losers In 2010

It’s holiday bowl and tournament time. While our eyes are fixed on scoreboards here and across the nation, let’s consider who the victors and vanquished were in election year 2010.

Neil Abercrombie certainly stands high atop the winners’ podium. A year ago, few odds-makers – including this one – gave him much of a chance of beating popular then-Mayor Mufi Hannemann for the governorship. Most asked instead why he would give up seniority and sure re-election to become chief executive of a state whose economy was in the tank. Abercrombie talked obliquely about offering Hawaii “A New Day,” campaigned diligently in the Neighbor Islands’outback, and allowed Hannemann to eviscerate himself with perhaps the most ham-handed campaign in Island history.

The result? A thorough 22-point thumping of the former mayor in the Democratic primary.

Six weeks later, Abercrombie did almost as well – a 17-point victory margin – against Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona in the General Election – pretty good considering that Republicans claimed Aiona had God and the righteous in his corner.

The losers? We’ve just named two. Hannemann lost so badly that it’s questionable whether he’s still politically viable as a Democrat. Aiona can certainly win the Republican gubernatorial nomination four years hence, but given the prolonged Hawaii death rattle of his party, it’s unlikely he can win the office. Add Ed Case to the list of losers. In the 1st Congressional District special election, his surprise third-place finish behind Republican Charles Djou and Senate President Colleen Hanabusa drove him out of the Democratic primary as well.

But Case and Hannemann can both find a glimmer of hope in another of this year’s losers: Sen. Daniel Akaka. For the past two years, Akaka and the Akaka Bill enjoyed the support of majorities in both houses of Congress. The Hawaiian-born-and-reared Barack Obama promised to sign it. Yet all of Danny’s aloha couldn’t slice off a half-dozen senators and get the bill to the president’s desk. There will be pressure on Akaka to step aside two years hence.

Then the Democratic senatorial nominee will get a chance to face off against another of 2010’s losers: outgoing Gov. Linda Lingle. Lingle always had a limited view of her office, but six years of home construction prosperity made her a popular governor. Then the national economic downturn hit Hawaii; Lingle limited her response to two words: “furlough”and “veto” – tough terms on which to win much of anything.

Then there’s Obama. He ran a helluva two-minute drill in the waning days of his congressional majorities, but it won’t make a winner out of him. This year an even more obstructionist Republican Party (if that’s even possible) will dominate the House of Representatives and state houses around the country, and many progressives in his own party have lost faith in the president. Add his name to the loser column.

He will not be joined there by the new Congress member from Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District. Nothing was pretty about Colleen Hanabusa’s victories. She slogged past Case in the special election, and threw and ducked mudballs to defeat U.S. Rep. Djou in the general. But Hanabusa made the winners’ column.

So too did the media, political consultants, pollsters and the like. The United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case opened the wallets of corporate America as never before. Republican money was aimed at embarrassing Obama in the state of his birth (for those few Republicans who think he was born here), and Democratic money came to his defense. The media folks saw neither Republican nor Democratic money – just the green kind.

But the voters lost. We saw advertisement after advertisement after advertisement ad nauseum for an entire year. By November – nay, by August or September – we were all suffering from election fatigue. Half-truths, outrageous claims, charges and counter-charges: much ado about nothing when real issues were at stake.

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