By STEVE TETREAULT
Stephens Washington Bureau
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With President Barack Obama expected to win big in Hawaii, the challenge for Democrats this fall is to avoid complacency and ensure that Senate candidate Mazie Hirono joins him back in Washington, according to the party’s Big Island chairman.
Hawaii Democrats who attended the party’s national convention earlier this week pent part of the time mapping the Senate campaign in strategy sessions that have included Gov. Neil Abercrombie, said Hawaii County leader Steve Pavao.
Hirono, a three-term House member, and Republican former Gov. Linda Lingle are running in the first Hawaii Senate race without an incumbent in 36 years. Most analysts believe the race is competitive, while leaning to the Democrats.
“The president is going to do 65-70 percent of the vote in Hawaii,” Pavao said. “We want to correlate that Mazie Hirono is part of the Obama team.”
“The (Republican National Committee) is probably going to put $6 million into the race,” Pavao said. “They think it is a race they can win and they definitely are counting it as a seat they need to take over the (Senate) majority.”
Analysts including those at the New York Times and Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia lean the Senate race to Democrats. Obama, who captured 71.5 percent of Hawaii’s vote in 2008, figures to help Hirono.
Republicans tout Lingle’s bipartisanship and record as a two-term governor in the Democratic-majority state. She has outraised Hirono $4.4 million to $3.4 million as of the end of July, while holding almost $500,000 more cash on hand than the Democratic candidate.
In a characterization that Republicans dispute, Pavao said the GOP is performing an “extreme makeover” of Lingle in an attempt to disguise her party affiliation.
“They are saying she is a friend of the president, that she is going to support him as a moderate,” Pavao said. In Lingle advertising, “the letter ‘R’ is never used.”
“We know where our strengths are,” Pavao said. “If our our numbers turn out as they should, Mazie should have no problem because Hawaii is a strong Democratic state.
“The issue is turnout,” he said. “If people get complacent, and they think the president is going to win Hawaii anyhow and and just take things for granted, then Mazie is going to have a problem.”