WASHINGTON — “Just shut up and step up.”
With those words, U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono burst onto the national stage during the bitter partisan battle over Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, who has since been confirmed. Hirono was speaking to American men, who she implored to believe and support women who claim they are survivors of sexual violence. At the time, Kavanaugh stood accused of sexual assault.
And while Hirono has since became the target of Republican ire, in deep-blue Hawaii she remains as popular as ever.
In a Civil Beat poll conducted October 8-12, Hirono’s approval rating was 58 percent positive while 31 percent of participants had a negative view of the Hawaii senator. Her approval rating is just one point lower than when Civil Beat last asked voters the same question in May, but is still among the highest she’s posted.
“She stands up for the underdog,” said Melissa Estrella, who lives in Nanawale Estates on Hawaii’s Big Island. “She stands up for the people who usually don’t have a voice.”
Estrella was one of 961 likely voters statewide who participated in the poll, conducted shortly after Kavanaugh was confirmed.
Among the questions posed was whether participants had a positive or negative view of Hirono, who is running for re-election this year against long-shot Republican challenger Ron Curtis.
Many respondents who voted for Trump had negative views of Hirono, which isn’t surprising for one of the more liberal members of the U.S. Senate. The senator does best with left-leaning Democrats, and particularly women.
She also does well with older voters and those who identify as Japanese.
Seth Rosenthal, opinion research consultant with Merriman River Group, the firm that conducted the poll, said that while Hirono’s approval rating has remained consistent compared to previous Civil Beat polls it’s notable that more likely voters, particularly those who identify themselves as moderates and conservatives, had a negative view of her in the latest survey.
Civil Beat surveyed 961 likely voters statewide Oct. 8-12.
The sample consisted of 70 percent landlines and 30 percent cellphones.
The margin of error is 3.2 percent.
For example, when Civil Beat polled Hirono’s favorability in May, 71 percent of moderates said they had a positive view of her with only 21 percent saying they had a negative opinion. In the most recent poll, those numbers are 61 percent approval and 31 percent disapproval.
The swing among voters identifying themselves as independents was even more dramatic. In May, only 41 percent of independents had a negative view of Hirono. In the October poll, that number increased to 55 percent.
The shift could be a reflection of her stance on Kavanaugh, which, while a rallying cry for those on the left, was viewed much differently on the right.
Many conservatives, and particularly men, were taken aback by her call for them to “shut up and step up” when it comes to addressing allegations of sexual misconduct. Hirono’s anger — along with her occasional use of foul language — was often criticized as unbecoming.
Rosenthal said another factor contributing to the increased negative feelings could be that Hirono has stepped out into the national spotlight by taking part in interviews with major news outlets such as CNN, The New York Times and The New Yorker.
He said U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who like Hirono is often considered one of the state’s most popular politicians, saw her approval ratings dip in 2017 after she started grabbing headlines for secretly traveling to Syria, where she met with President Bashar al-Assad.
“Sometimes when local politicians strike out to make themselves better known nationally that can have some negative repercussions back home, if only temporarily,” Rosenthal said.
He noted that Gabbard’s approval rating, after that initial slip, went back up when Civil Beat polled again in May.
The difference with Hirono, he said, is that her shifts in positive and negative views are relatively slight, especially when considering the margin of error.
“The bottom line here is that it’s hard to make too much of these changes,” Rosenthal said. “She’s steady as she goes.”
Jim Hyde, 67, is a lifelong Democrat from Hawaii, who participated in Civil Beat’s poll. He says he’s no fan of Hirono and that he’s ready to give up on his party.
Hyde, a retired engineer who voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, said he’s particularly disappointed with Hirono and how she handled herself during Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings.
“Mazie Hirono, I’m really dissatisfied with what she’s been doing,” Hyde said. “She’s shown her true colors in regard to being a sheep rather than a sheep herder.”
Like Hyde, Estrella admitted she was concerned with how Democrats handled themselves during the Kavanaugh hearings.
Estrella said that while it was nice to hear Hirono and others speaking out about sexual violence, she didn’t like the way Christine Blasey Ford’s story, which she initially wanted to keep confidential, was leaked to the media.
Still, Estrella said it’s nice to know Hawaii has someone like Hirono in Washington to speak up about issues that are important to the state.
Estrella pointed to Hirono’s criticisms of Kavanaugh’s views on Native Hawaiians and whether they should be treated in the same manner as American Indian tribes. Kavanaugh has said he does not believe Hawaiians are indigenous people and therefore are not deserving of special rights and privileges.
Estrella, who is part-Hawaiian, said she was proud of the way Hirono stuck up for her people even though the senator herself is a Japanese immigrant.
“We’re just a small state made up of little islands out in the Pacific, but we’re also part of the United States,” Estrella said. “It’s nice that she’s letting Washington know that we have a voice.”
Hirono is seeking a second six-year term in the Senate and is widely considered a shoe-in. Curtis, her Republican opponent and retired engineer, is a relative unknown who hasn’t reported raising or spending any money on his campaign.
Hirono’s campaign, meanwhile, has raised more than $4 million during the election cycle and experienced an uptick in donations in the latest fundraising quarter.
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