UPDATED 9:30 a.m.

Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle went after each other Monday night in their second of five debates before the Nov. 6 election, and the first debate broadcast on television statewide.

At issue was the “economy/health security” — primarily Social Security and Medicare — as debate sponsor AARP Hawaii put it in a press release. As Civil Beat has reported, AARP is in the midst of an educational campaign to get members to wake up to the financial problems the programs face.

Yet, the debate did not break any new ground on the candidates’ positions on entitlements.

For example, Hirono, the U.S. representative, says she would raise the payroll tax cap to help fund Social Security. So would Lingle, the former Hawaii governor.

When it comes to Medicare, Hirono wants to stop fraud and abuse of the system while Lingle wants seniors to have more choices in coverage, noting that 43 percent of Hawaii residents use Medicare Advantage plans.

It was on other issues that revealed more of the candidates and provided insights into what kind of senator they would be.

As she did with Ed Case in the primary, Hirono pointed out that Lingle supported the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, in contrast to Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye who did not.

But Lingle was prepared with a powerful response: That she had never seen Hirono at change-of-command ceremonies, deployment sendoffs or visiting with the families of service members, as Lingle has.

“It’s one thing to say you support the troops and another to show up and grieve with families that gave the ultimate sacrifice,” said Lingle.

Lingle zinged Hirono again when she observed that Hirono voted against the South Korean free trade agreement championed by the other members of Hawaii’s delegation and President Barack Obama.

True to form, Lingle was smooth and unflappable, staring directly into the camera when answering questions and smiling frequently, though the smiles sometimes seemed forced. She also gave detailed answers, like where she agrees with Obamacare — on covering pre-existing conditions, for example — and where she does not, such as its failure to address medical malpractice reform.

Hirono was less smooth and less detailed, relying on familiar tropes such as calling Lingle “my Republican opponent” and repeating words like “clearly,” “strengthen” and “kupuna” over and over. She did not smile often, and she mostly directed her answers to KHON2’s Gina Mangieri, who moderated the debate, and panelists Gerald Kato and Jerry Burris.

It was not a knockout punch like the one Mitt Romney gave Obama in their first presidential debate, and Hirono will probably bounce back in the next debate. But there is something about Lingle that sometimes seems to bring out the worst in Hirono.

Areas of Agreement

Lingle, behind in the polls and abandoned by most national conservative groups who are funneling their money into more closely contested Senate contests in other states, is the underdog in this race.

But both candidates were on the attack Monday night.

Lingle underscored her argument that she has a real record of accomplishment — like creating the Hawaii Clean Energy Inititiave. Could Hirono point to any comparable accomplishment in Congress?

Hirono did not name any bills of hers that passed but said she was proud to have made sure that Hawaii’s Pre-Paid Health Care Act was preserved in the president’s Affordable Care Act.

There were areas of agreement between the candidates: both would not support a U.S. Supreme Court justice nominee who would overturn abortion rights, both expressed great reluctance to send the nation into war unless there was a clear security threat, and they both said they love congressional earmarks because they want to bring federal money home to Hawaii.

Hirono managed to tie Lingle to one of Democrats’ strongest political talking points: eliminating the Bush-era tax cuts that favor the wealthiest. Lingle diffused the argument somewhat, saying Hirono did not understand that those wealthy Americans include small business owners that employ a lot of people here at home.

One of the strongest exchanges came when Hirono reminded viewers that Lingle campaigned for George W. Bush, John McCain and Sarah Palin and supports Mitt Romney, and that Lingle had been very critical of Obama’s leadership capabilities when he was first running for president.

Again, Lingle was prepared: She noted that Inouye had initially supported Hillary Clinton for president and that Hirono had supported John Edwards. And she explained that she had spoken out early and loudly in declaring that Obama was indeed born in Hawaii amidst all the birther clamor.

Lingle then took it a step farther: “I’ve often wondered, because you talk so much about women’s issues, how horribly he treated his late wife. Did you ever regret supporting John Edwards for president?”

“That is such a misstatement,” Hirono said, saying she did support Obama for president. Hirono did indeed support Obama in 2008. But she backed Edwards in 2004.

Lingle and Hirono debate next on Oct. 16 in a forum sponsored by Civil Beat and KITV. The other debates are Oct. 18 on PBS Hawaii and Oct. 22 in a forum sponsored by Hawaii News Now and the Honolulu Star-Advertiser.

Pre-Debate Spin

The morning of the debate, the Hirono campaign sent out a detailed press release accusing the Lingle campaign of running a radio advertisement that violates the Communications Act of 1934.

Asked for a response, Lingle campaign chair Bob Lee emailed Civil Beat, “Mazie Hirono’s campaign has launched yet another desperate attempt to distract from the fact that their candidate is not prepared to stand up next to Linda Lingle in tonight’s statewide televised debate.”

“Despite Hirono’s smear tactics, ad at issue is in full legal compliance w/ all FEC requirements for political ads,” said Lingle’s Twitter account.

That afternoon, less than three hours before the debate was to begin at 7 p.m., Hirono’s people sent out a second lengthy press release, this one titled “What to Expect in Tonight’s Hawaii U.S. Senate Debate.”

The press release named five “misleading statements and arguments you will likely hear tonight,” such as “Lingle will claim that she will be a bipartisan, independent voice for Hawaii.”

In fact, the press release got some things right — that Lingle would argue that Hirono is an ineffective legislator — but others wrong — Lingle never actually said Hawaii needs a “foot in both camps” in the U.S. Senate (though Hirono herself said these very words, albiet in mocking reference to Lingle). If Hirono hoped to throw Lingle off her debate game plan, it didn’t appear to work.

During and after the debate, meanwhile, both campaigns issued their own spin in the form of fact checks — by 8:30 p.m., 30 minutes after the debate ended, Hirono’s people had issued no less than 10.

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