UPDATED 9/18/12 4:40 p.m.

The controversy over Mitt Romney’s dismissal of the “47 percent of Americans who don’t pay federal income taxes” shows no sign of disappearing.

It has led to great concern among many Republican politicians across the country — particularly those in tough election races — and some have already distanced themselves from their presidential nominee. There are also those who say they agree with Romney and praise him for speaking out.

Yet, Hawaii’s top Republicans, Linda Lingle and Charles Djou, have not said anything about what has become the biggest political story of the campaign, a development that could impact not only the outcome of the presidential election but perhaps control of the U.S. Congress.

UPDATE The Lingle U.S. Senate campaign did not respond to Civil Beat’s inquiries this week about Romney’s remarks.1

But after this story was published, Lingle sent an email statement saying she does not agree with Romney’s characterization of people receiving government assistance.

A spokesman for Djou’s campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives said Tuesday that the candidate “has no comment on Gov. Romney’s remarks at this time.”

Lingle and Djou, of course, are running in the bluest of states, birthplace of the 44th president of the United States.

It’s understandable that they might not want to embrace Romney’s view that the 47 percent are people who believe they are “victims” entitled to health care, food, housing — “you name it,” as Romney put it in remarks at a fundraiser earlier this year that were surreptitiously recorded.

To not “worry about those people” because he’ll “never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives,” as Romney said, seems at odds with Hawaii’s aloha spirit. Democrats Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, who have stated repeatedly that Republicans do not share Hawaii’s “values,” are no doubt paying close attention to this developing story.

But the silence from Lingle and Djou also suggests a reluctance to show leadership on a major election year issue — government spending on entitlement programs. Lingle desires to be a national leader and has played up her willingness to speak out on controversial issues regardless of the politics.

For example, Lingle did not wait long to condemn the remark about “legitimate rape” by Rep. Todd Akin, a fellow Republican seeking a Senate seat from Missouri. Akin’s comments last month — that victims of “legitimate rape” rarely get pregnant because their bodies have a way “to try to shut that whole thing down” — was widely denounced by both parties. Some Republicans, including Romney, urged Akin to quit the Senate race.

Lingle’s reluctance to speak out is also drawing political fire from Hirono, her U.S. Senate opponent. Hirono sent out a press release Wednesday afternoon condemning Romney’s remarks and criticizing Lingle for remaining silent about them.

“Here in Hawaii, where President Obama was raised – where President Obama received over 71% of the vote in 2008 – Mitt Romney is writing off a whole lot of people,” she said in what were prepared remarks for a speech to the International Longshore and Warehouse Union. “People right here in this room.”

Hirono, who called Romney’s words “an outrage” and his views “unacceptable,” noted that Lingle has said she is proud to co-chair Romney’s campaign committee yet now remains silent.

The speech sure seems to have strong legs, and, as in Hawaii, it is surfacing in congressional contests throughout the country.

  1. The Lingle campaign sent a statement from the candidate late Wednesday after this article was already published: “Despite Mazie Hirono’s best efforts, the people of Hawaii know that this election for the U.S. Senate is about she and I, not Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan, President Obama or Vice President Biden. Mitt Romney is running his national campaign, and I am running my campaign here at home. Mazie Hirono’s repeated attempts to nationalize this election are proof that she does not have a record of accomplishment for the people of Hawaii and she must campaign on fear tactics and national party talking points, rather than her own plans for our future. I am not a rubber stamp for the national party and I am not responsible for the statements of Mitt Romney. With that said, I do not agree with his characterization of all individuals who are receiving government assistance, as I know many of them are driven, hard-working individuals who are actively working to better the situation of their ‘ohana. It is not fair to place these individuals into any one category. The people of Hawaii know I don’t believe in labels and I know they don’t either.”

The Latest

The story is a moving target with multiple parts, but here are the latest developments. They underscore the significance of the story and why it’s important for Hawaii voters to hear what local candidates have to say.

Tight Races

GOP Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts and Connecticut Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon say they disagree with Romney, though Brown says he still supports him for president while McMahon has previously said the same thing as Romney about 47 percent of Americans not paying taxes.

Still, Brown also said this about Romney’s remarks: “That’s not the way I view the world. As someone who grew up in tough circumstances, I know that being on public assistance is not a spot that anyone wants to be in. Too many people today who want to work are being forced into public assistance for lack of jobs.”

And McMahon had this to say: “I know that the vast majority of those who rely on government are not in that situation because they want to be. People today are struggling because the government has failed to keep America competitive, failed to support job creators, and failed to get our economy back on track.”

Entitlement Support

New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez — hailed by the GOP as an example of the party’s ability to attract Latinos — said a government safety net is necessary to take care of people who need help.

Same goes for Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada, who said, “My father was an auto mechanic. My mother was a school cook. I just don’t view the world the same way he does. Every vote in Nevada counts, every vote. And as a United States senator, my job is represent every one of those votes, whether they voted for me or against me.”

But Heller’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Shelley Berkley, said, “Mitt Romney and Dean Heller are reading from the same script when it comes to struggling middle-class families.”

Worried Strategists

National GOP strategists are alarmed. The Hill reported Tuesday: “I don’t think we’ll know the full extent of the damage for another 48 hours. … If it makes it to the weekend, it could take a game-changer to get him back on track.”

Romney’s mistakes could cost the GOP the Senate, some say: “Romney’s failure to close the gap with President Obama less than 50 days before the election, as well as a variety of high-profile gaffes, have raised concerns that the GOP nominee will strand candidates in close swing-states races. Polls show Obama leading Romney in Ohio and Virginia, two states where strategists think the top of the ticket will most affect the Senate contests.”

Fallout on the Hill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell let Democrat floor attacks on Romney go unanswered Wednesday, choosing instead to comment on Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Washington. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, meantime, said Romney “was completely out of touch with Americans.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, the Republican of South Carolina, criticized Romney for spending too much time fundraising and not enough on the campaign trail.

In the House, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Romney “said what he believed”, adding, “I don’t think there’s ever any private fundraiser.” Even Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, admitted that Romney’s remarks were “obviously inarticulate”.

Campaign Fodder

A super PAC that supports President Barack Obama’s re-election has already released an ad using Romney’s remarks “to paint him as a wealthy man hostile towards the middle class.”

Some Republicans, however, believe that many potential voters will embrace Romney’s larger point about government entitlements. “I think [Romney] needs to now own this statement, articulate it better than he did at that dinner, and actually now have a substantive policy on entitlement reform,” conservative blogger Erick Erickson told NPR’s Steve Inskeep on Wednesday.

But a new poll suggests that the Romney remarks won’t make much difference with voters, including among coveted independent voters.

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