With the primary election less than five months away, Ed Case is trying to get Mazie Hirono to come out of her protective congressional bubble.

In his latest effort, he accuses Hirono of campaign tactics in the U.S. Senate race comparable to the muddiest exchange in the 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

The strategy didn’t work. Hirono basically continued to ignore him.

In a letter Wednesday to the congresswoman titled “Take Back Your Compare and Decide Letter,” Case, a former congressman, said:

Today your campaign sent out an email saying that you are “the only candidate in this race that has overcome real challenges, the only candidate who knows how important a strong ohana is for success.”

Do you think that? Do you embrace that?

Case excerpts a quote from an unidentified Hirono supporter that was included in an invitation to Hirono’s Honolulu campaign headquarters opening this Saturday.

In his letter, Case defends his background and experience to be senator and states, “Your ohana comment is just plain offensive. Are you saying your ohana is somehow better than mine, or that you appreciate them more than I do mine?”

Case then says this:

Folks recognized Compare and Decide from the ’10 Governor campaign as an attempt to fan the fires of division and prejudice to divert voters from what really counted. Are you trying to do the same?

“Compare and Decide” was the title of a political mailer issued by Mufi Hannemann‘s campaign that attacked his Democratic opponent, Neil Abercrombie.

The mailer presented the former mayor as a younger, more educated, more experienced and more locally rooted candidate than the former congressman.

The mailer was immediately denounced by Abercrombie and others, and it likely contributed to Hannemann’s primary election loss to Abercrombie by nearly 22 percentage points.

Case’s attack on Hirono may not reach that level. But it does show that he is anxious to draw attention to what has been a fairly quiet race since he and Hirono announced they were running for Sen. Daniel Akaka‘s seat a year ago.

Contrasting Campaigns

The primary is just 145 days away, yet there has been little advertising, and debates and joint appearances have yet to be finalized.

It’s not just any Senate race; it’s the first open Senate seat in Hawaii in 36 years and one of a handful of Senate races nationally that could decide control of the Senate — and the nation’s agenda.

Case, far behind in fundraising yet neck and neck in polling numbers, according to a Civil Beat poll in January, is trying to engage his opponent, betting he’ll stack up better in a side-by-side comparison.

He has also been campaigning longer and harder for the Senate job, including a lot of sign waving and talk stories across the state.

By contrast, with the exception of healthy fundraising hauls and a string of endorsements, Hirono has been nearly invisible on the campaign trail. She even lacked a decent campaign website — one explaining her platform, for example — until last month.

Hirono does have an excuse that Case does not: She is a sitting member of Congress.

Hirono has sent out a stream of press releases chronicling her positions and activities. They run from the purposeful — “Congresswoman Hirono Votes to Extend Payroll Tax Cut for Middle Class Families” — to the mundane — “Congresswoman Hirono to Announce Winners of 2012 Congressional Art Competition.”

They routinely get picked up by the media.

Case doesn’t buy the “I’m too busy in Congress” argument, however, having run for the Senate himself in 2006 while representing the 2nd Congressional District — now represented by Hirono.

But without the benefit of incumbency, Case sometimes has to push for coverage. For example, he’s tried to secure debates or joint appearances with Hirono.

Hirono hasn’t bitten, but Case hasn’t backed off.

“On Mazie’s congressional schedule, she will not be in session for 93 of the days remaining until the August 11th primary, so even allowing for travel time there are many available dates for her to join in debates and joint appearances statewide,” he told Civil Beat Thursday.

Hirono’s ‘Handlers’

The “Compare and Decide” attack may not be the most effective vehicle for attacking Hirono, in part because he stretches some things, as seen in this comment:

What about the specific challenges facing our country, the specific issues, our records, beliefs, agendas and allegiances, which of us can deliver strong effective leadership for our country? You have steadfastly refused to say, and refused any and all debates and joint appearances where voters can actually consider all of this.

In fact, though she was late in getting around to it, Hirono does have a mildly detailed platform on her website.

Case is correct, however, that voters have not had the opportunity to hear Hirono’s views contrasted with Case’s.

He makes this point, too:

Stop hiding behind your handlers. Come out and engage in a public campaign that shows you deserve consideration as Hawaii’s next Senator. Come out and talk with me publicly about which of us can get the job done, how we would do it, and how our upbringings and ohana fit in.

Case told Civil Beat that his letter to Hirono was not an attack but rather a response to an attack.

“We believe that we are about even with Mazie today with many voters still undecided, and that the more voters think about their choice and who they believe can deliver strong, effective leadership in D.C. over the next generation, the more support we earn,” Case said Thursday.

He continued: “We also believe that the Hirono campaign knows this and is deliberately avoiding any debate or other opportunities for voters to size us up side-by-side and make that decision for themselves. My email was about nothing more or less than calling Mazie out on a message that was itself an attack, wrong and offensive.”

Asked about the Compare and Decide attack, Hirono’s campaign manger, Betsy Lin, said, “It’s unfortunate that Mr. Case misinterpreted the kind words one of our supporters expressed about Mazie’s inspirational personal story. The same spirit of optimism and ohana we’re certain Ed Case brought to raising his upstanding family should be the same spirit that infuses this election.”

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