By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle on Thursday escalated brewing political tensions with U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye by saying the longtime lawmaker thinks he should be able to hand-pick the state’s next U.S. Senator.
The Republican Lingle said in a video promoted by her campaign that Inouye, a Democrat and President Pro-Tempore of the U.S. Senate, is denying well-documented history between them and personally attacking her in her Senate race against U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono.
“Sen. Inouye believes he should be the one to determine who should step down and who should step up in Hawaii politics,” Lingle said in the video lasting more than two minutes.
“He seems to believe that he should be the one who picks our next U.S. Senator,” Lingle said. “But with all due respect to the senior senator, I believe that decision is up to you, the people of Hawaii.”
Lingle and Hirono are competing for a seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka. A Hirono campaign spokesman declined comment.
Lingle is an underdog in the race but previously won two terms as governor and has more campaign money than Hirono. Hawaii is a solidly Democratic state and President Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu, is at the top of the ticket in November as he runs for re-election against Republican Mitt Romney.
It’s clear Obama will carry Hawaii and its four electoral votes. Lingle needs some Obama supporters to pick her and has argued that having one Republican and one Democrat in the U.S. Senate is what’s best for Hawaii.
In her campaign ads, Lingle doesn’t mention her party. But a win in Hawaii would be huge for Republicans, who need to gain four seats in Senate races across the country in November to win majority power.
Tensions between Inouye and Lingle surfaced as Lingle tries to make her case to Hawaii voters that she’s a bipartisan leader who shouldn’t be seen as a rubber stamp for the GOP.
Inouye chided Lingle last month for releasing an ad that pictured them side by side and said Inouye wouldn’t lose power even if Republicans gain majority power. If Republicans gain a majority, Inouye would lose his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Lingle’s campaign manager said Inouye would still have power as the committee’s ranking Democrat.
“It is grossly misleading and suggests a relationship that has never existed,” Inouye said of the ad.
Lingle offered three examples of her previous work with Inouye while she was governor. She said pushed with him to keep a naval shipyard at Pearl Harbor open, tried to convince Republicans to support an Akaka bill for federal recognition of Native Hawaiians and approached Inouye with the state’s plan to spend federal stimulus money.