By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — U.S. Senate hopefuls Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle targeted each other’s weaknesses in a televised debate Monday night, each portraying herself as most qualified to serve in the seat held by retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
Lingle, the Republican former two-term governor of Hawaii, said Democrat Hirono was trying to tie her to Mitt Romney, George W. Bush and other prominent Republicans because Hirono’s record in the U.S. House hasn’t shown much.
“It’s really sad that she’s not able to stand on her own,” Lingle said.
Hirono said Lingle will vote Republican when it matters, and disagreed with Lingle’s argument that one Republican and one Democrat senator is what’s best for Hawaii.
“Why should that be a good thing when they will be canceling each other’s vote?” Hirono said.
The one-hour tangle represented the latest evolution in a general election campaign that finds Lingle trying to convince a heavily Democratic state that her party shouldn’t be voters’ main consideration.
Hirono said she’ll be an ally for President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii’s senior senator and one of the most powerful Democrats in Washington.
Hirono and other Democrats argue Lingle is key to Republican hopes for taking over the Senate, which would make Inouye less effective as he would no longer be chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee. The GOP needs to pick up four seats across the country to gain majority control.
Hirono and Lingle staked out widely different positions during the debate sponsored by AARP and hosted by KHON-TV.
On Medicare, Hirono said she favored strengthening the current system and keeping everyone in it, while Lingle said she favored plans where seniors could choose their care, like the options federal lawmakers get.
On Social Security, Lingle said she would consider raising the retirement age for jobs that aren’t as physically demanding as a way to deal with longer life spans and changing economic circumstances for future retirees. Hirono said she would not want to raise the retirement age.
Both said they wouldn’t support a Supreme Court nominee who would clearly rule to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling that allows women to choose whether to have abortions. Both also said they support federal earmarking with some changes and that they don’t like a Supreme Court ruling that allows unlimited independent money spent on political ads.
The toughest shots in the mostly polite, cordial debate came when Hirono asked Lingle if she regretted campaigning against Obama in 2008. Lingle shot back by saying Hirono and Inouye didn’t always support Obama during the primary.
“Did you regret supporting John Edwards?” Lingle said.
“That is such a misstatement,” Hirono said, adding that she supported Obama’s candidacy. Her campaign said she supported Edwards in 2004, not 2008.