By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — On her path toward the U.S. Senate, Mazie Hirono fiercely touted her Democratic ideals, arguing that her party’s stances and leaders better reflect the values of Hawaii.
Now, after trouncing former Gov. Linda Lingle, the congresswoman is embracing her standing as the state’s first woman — and the nation’s first Asian-American woman — to serve as senator.
Hirono told the Associated Press after winning Tuesday night that the historical footnote says something about the makeup of the country’s electoral pipeline.
“What it reflects is that we need a lot more diversity in the United States Senate,” said Hirono, who was born in Fukushima, Japan. “I’m going to do my part to support more women to run for Congress and certainly support more minority candidates.”
Hirono, 65, moved to Hawaii with her mother in 1955, then went on to practice law in Honolulu before she was elected to the Hawaii Legislature in 1980. She was elected as lieutenant governor in 1994 and 1998, then lost a governor’s race to Lingle in 2002. She was elected to the U.S. House in 2006, and has generally been considered one of its more liberal members.
Hirono won her head-to-head rematch with Lingle by consistently criticizing her as a representative of national Republican interests. At every turn in the race, Hirono linked her opponent with well-known GOP names including Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and George Bush.
Lingle responded, in part, by painting Hirono as a follower content to simply serve as support for President Barack Obama and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
The strategy didn’t work in a state known to heavily support Democrats. Obama topped the party ticket in his birth state, pacing his fellow Democrats with just over 70 percent of the vote on his path to re-election over former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.
While Hirono didn’t win as much support as Obama in the state, she beat Lingle decisively, taking more than 60 percent of the vote.
Hirono said the margin surprised her in a race where both campaigns fought hard and outside groups spent money on ads all the way through, despite polls that showed her ahead.
“Yes, I was surprised, and very gratified and humbled,” Hirono said.
Democrats also won both U.S. House races in the state.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa won re-election in the district serving urban Honolulu, while former Honolulu councilwoman Tulsi Gabbard won the chance to represent the rest of the state.
Lingle said she hasn’t decided what’s next. She said it’s difficult to isolate one or two factors that led to her loss by themselves, and said voters made a clear decision.
“I was very proud of the race that we ran,” Lingle said.
Hirono said she’s hopeful that lawmakers will be able to work through factors that have led to Congressional gridlock. She says that even though the balance of power didn’t change Tuesday night — Republican kept the House, Democrats kept the Senate and the White House — several faces will be different and make for new interactions and dynamics in Washington.
“Wherever I’ve found myself, I’ve always tried to do my best,” she said. “I’ve always looked at every position that I’ve had as truly an opportunity to do good for Hawaii in the here and now.”
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia .