WASHINGTON — A month of head-to-head debates, outside spending and full-bore campaigning did not move the needle, and Mazie Hirono is still comfortably ahead of Linda Lingle in the race for Hawaii’s open U.S. Senate seat.

The Civil Beat Poll shows Hirono, the Democrat and a three-term congresswoman, with a 55 percent to 40 percent lead over the two-term Republican Hawaii governor. The survey of 1,218 likely general election voters was conducted between Oct. 24 and Oct. 26.1 The poll’s margin of error is 2.8 percent. Five percent said they were undecided.

Hirono’s advantage is nearly identical to the 55-39 split The Civil Beat Poll found a month earlier in the first independent survey of the race since the two became their parties respective nominees in August.

“The bottom line is they’re both well-known so you’re not going to have a lot of movement,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of Merriman River Group, which partners with Civil Beat on its polls. “So that doesn’t surprise me.”

The gap in the new poll was particularly large among the third of respondents who said they’d already voted, with Hirono leading 61 percent to 37 percent versus 52 percent to 42 percent for the two-thirds who said they haven’t yet voted but definitely intended to do so. Early walk-in voting began Oct. 23, and absentee mail ballots were sent to voters starting around then.

That means there’s room for Lingle to narrow the gap slightly. Pro-Lingle groups are spending big money on TV ads for the final days of the race to help make that happen. But she’d need a major turnaround to make the contest competitive.

“She might, with a fantastic effort, keep the margin of victory lower, but I don’t think she has a serious chance to win. I do not, especially given that among votes already cast she’s down 24,” Fitch said.

“She wouldn’t just have to win among people who haven’t voted yet. She would have to turn a 10-point deficit into a 12-point lead. In essence, she’d have to move the needle 22 points in a week when she hasn’t been able to move it more than one or two in months.”

Lingle the Moderate?

At issue throughout the campaign has been Lingle’s attempt to paint herself as bipartisan and independent. She’s distanced herself from national Republicans, pushing back against both the mostly false claim that she’s a co-chair of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign as well as the apparently true claim that she called George W. Bush America’s “greatest president.”

She rarely uses the word “Republican” to describe herself.

The rebranding effort seems to have had some success, but not enough to turn the campaign in her favor with a Hawaii-born president at the top of the Democratic ticket.

A plurality of respondents — 42 percent — said they consider her a moderate, versus 36 percent who see her as a conservative and 6 percent who said she’s liberal. Fifteen percent said they were unsure.

Self-described conservatives were most likely, at 62 percent, to call Lingle a moderate versus 23 percent of conservatives who said she belonged to their group. Moderates were likely to claim Lingle as one of their own, with 49 percent calling her a moderate and 35 percent calling her a conservative. Conversely, 60 percent of self-described liberals called Lingle a conservative versus just 28 percent who said she’s moderate.

Of those who said they consider Lingle to be conservative, 77 percent said they support Hirono. Of those who said they consider Lingle to be a moderate, 69 percent support her.

In all, Hirono led 87 percent to 11 percent among self-described liberals and progressives, who represent 30 percent of those surveyed. That advantage drops to just 50 percent to 46 percent among moderates, who comprise 39 percent of Civil Beat’s pool. Lingle led 81 percent to 16 among conservatives, who made up 21 percent of the respondents.

Basically, Hawaii is just too Democratic, particularly in presidential years.

“Politics in Hawaii, and elsewhere, but especially in Hawaii, politics is a team sport. The problem in Hawaii is that she’s got Romney and Hirono’s got Obama, and I think that matters,” Fitch said. “It’s a Democratic state. The president was born in Hawaii, and she’s on the ticket with the other guy. It’s tough. It’s tough to overcome.”

The crosstabs back that up, with Lingle drawing support from 94 percent of Romney voters but only 11 percent of Obama voters.

Still, some of those Lingle supporters had voted for Democrat Ed Case in the Aug. 11 primary. In fact, 53 percent of respondents who indicated they voted for Case in August said they now support Lingle. Forty-two percent support Hirono.

That could be because Lingle presents the best second option for moderate supporters of the Blue Dog Democrat Case. Or it could be that many Republicans participated in the heated Democratic primary rather than the sleepy GOP one, and are reverting to the candidate who had always been their first choice.

Of those who said they supported Lingle in the primary against John Carroll, 97 percent said they still support her now.

Where and Who?

Hirono’s support was widespread, but not universal.

  • Hirono led 62 percent to 34 percent among women, but just 49 percent to 46 percent among men.
  • Hirono led among voters over 50, but Lingle actually led among voters under 30 and voters in their 40s.
  • Hirono’s largest leads were among Hawaiians and Japanese voters, with a substantial lead among Caucasians as well.
  • Hirono led by double digits in all four counties, with the largest lead on the Big Island (63 percent to 33 percent) and the smallest lead in Maui County (52 percent to 41 percent).
  • Hirono led by more than 20 points among those in families making less than $100,000 per year, but found herself virtually tied (49 percent to 48 percent) among those with six-figure incomes.

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