UPDATED 10/11/11 3 p.m.

What had been expected for months became official early Tuesday when Linda Lingle told the KSSK radio program “Perry and Price” that she is running for the U.S. Senate.

A formal announcement is expected at noon at the Pacific Club in downtown Honolulu.

Longtime Lingle adviser Lenny Klompus confirmed the announcement.

Lingle, who served as governor from 2002 until 2010, is the Republican frontrunner for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Akaka next year.

Democrats Mazie Hirono and Ed Case are facing off in what is expected to be a heated contest in their party’s primary. Lingle is expected to have an easy ride to the general election.

Running in a Blue State

In a press release issued Tuesday morning, Linge, 58, said, “I am very appreciative of the encouragement I have received from our residents across the state about my run for Hawaii’s open U.S. Senate seat. Because of this support, and after much thoughtful deliberation, I am energized and enthusiastic about the opportunity to serve all the people of Hawaii in Washington.”

Lingle said she will stress her “record of fiscal accountability and executive experience in economic development, stimulating job creation, international relations, clean energy and visitor industry issues to Washington.”

Lingle is a former Maui County Council member and Maui mayor. She was the first female governor of Hawaii and only the second Republican to hold the seat.

While Lingle served two terms as governor, she has failed to grow the size of the Hawaii Republican Party. Democrats currently control all four congressional seats and have a commanding majority in the Hawaii Legislature. Hawaii is also the birthplace of President Barack Obama, who remains popular here despite low ratings nationally.

Aware of that, Lingle has recently talked publicly about how some of her views align well with the president’s, such as on education.

In a taste of what is to come during the campaign, however, Matt Canter of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee sent out an email immediately following the news of Lingle’s run. The email said:

Today marks Linda Lingle’s biggest announcement since she nominated Sarah Palin for Vice President, an event that typifies Lingle’s partisan Republican approach to governing. Now Lingle wants to go to Washington to become a rubber-stamp for Mitch McConnell and the Republican party whose sole priority is to defeat President Obama at every turn.

Canter pointed to a Hawaii Poll released in May that showed Rep. Hirono leading Lingle by 22 points. As well, Canter note that Lingle’s approval rating upon leaving office was just 40 percent.


Case, Hirono React

In response to Lingle’s announcement, Democrats predicted her electoral failure.

“The national Republican Party has been anxious to move Lingle back to center stage as they did at the 2008 Republican National Convention, when Lingle went on national television to second Sarah Palin’s nomination for Vice President and endorse the McCain-Palin ticket over our island son, Barack Obama,” said Jadine Nielsen, finance chair of the Hirono campaign. “We welcome Linda Lingle to the Hawaii Senate campaign. However, we’re confident the people of Hawaii will choose a Senator who’s on their side, Mazie Hirono.”

Hirono’s campaign also sent out a plea for money:

Will you contribute $5 right now, to show Linda Lingle just what she’s up against as she tries to claim Hawaii’s open Senate seat for the Republican Party?

“Hawaii’s voters couldn’t have a clearer choice among very different candidates, and that’s good for democracy,” said Case, who predicted the campaign would be about change and values. “The values of far-right Republicans in Washington that Linda wants to join are not Hawaii’s values.”

John Carroll, who is running in the Republican primary against Lingle, released a statement critical of his opponent’s positions in support of the Akaka bill on federal recognition of Native Hawaiians and the federal Jones Act on shipping laws.

Carroll called the Akaka bill “divisive and racist.” As for the Jones Act, he said, “Lingle had eight years, as our governor, to fight his unfair law that costs Hawaii’s people millions, and chose to do nothing.”

The Djou campaign, by contrast, was excited by the news.

“Governor Lingle has the executive experience and leadership skills we need in our nation’s capital,” according to a campaign press release. “Under her leadership, our economy grew, jobs were created, and our state moved closer to a clean energy future. Lingle’s record demonstrates that she will be a strong, independent voice for the people of Hawaii.”

Daniel K. Inouye, Hawaii’s senior U.S. senator, perhaps said it best, via email: “This election cycle should be most interesting and very active.”

Tide Change?

Lingle’s last year in office was arguably her worst.

It was marked by mandatory Furlough Fridays imposed on state teachers, a mandate that briefly led to the occupation by school parents of Lingle’s fifth floor office at the state Capitol. Lingle refused to meet with the protesters, some of whom were arrested in her office.

She also vetoed a bill that would have established Hawaii civil unions, something that her political base approved of but was done in a way that humiliated supporters such as former Hawaii Associate Justice Steve Levinson. He and others were invited to Lingle’s office for public action on the controversial legislation, only to witness her veto it.

(A civil unions bill signed into law this spring under a Democratic governor.)

Former Rep. Case, meanwhile, has argued that polling shows he would make the stronger candidate against Lingle in the general election.

In Lingle’s favor, however, is a disappointing performance by her successor, Democrat Neil Abercrombie. His administration was rocked last week when four of his aides announced their resignations, including his chief of staff.

Political control of the U.S. Senate is at play this year, with more Democrats seeking re-election than Republicans. The GOP feels it has a solid shot at keeping the U.S. House and winning the Senate and the presidency. Lingle’s campaign is sure to benefit from mainland financial support.

Familiar Team

Klompus, who was a senior advisor to Lingle as governor, is Lingle’s communications director for her Senate run.

Retired U.S. Army Major General Robert Lee, a former State Adjutant General and head of the Hawaii’s National Guard during the Lingle administration, will serve as campaign manager.

The Hawaii GOP is certain to rally around Lingle’s candidacy. Sen. Akaka’s departure marks the first time in decades that a U.S. Senate race in Hawaii has not featured an incumbent. Only one Republican, Hiram Fong, served in the U.S. Senate from Hawaii.

The GOP is also hopeful of returning Charles Djou to the U.S. Congress. He has already announced his campaign to retake the Hawaii First Congressional District seat.

Lingle’s announcement comes just a month after local party chair Jonah Kaauwai was pressured by Lingle and other top Republicans to resign.

Lingle, a former party chair, and other Republicans were not happy with Kaauwai’s inability to get more party members elected.

Follow Civil Beat on Facebook and Twitter. You can also sign up for Civil Beat’s free daily newsletter.

About the Author