Congresswoman Mazie Hirono claimed victory Tuesday night over former governor Linda Lingle in the race for Hawai‘i’s first open U.S. Senate seat in more than 20 years.
Despite speculation that the contest would be close, Hirono bested her Republican opponent with 62.6 percent to Lingle’s 37.8 percent – a margin of over 100,000 votes.
The win came after the initial round of state election results was delayed by over an hour due to a shortage of paper ballots across some O‘ahu districts, leaving many anxious Hirono supporters, including those at Hawai‘i Democratic Headquarters, unsure of their candidate’s fate.
Still, many supporters said they did not need the official results to know that Hirono had done well.
Scott Kaneshiro, a junior finance major and Hirono supporter who came to the Democratic election night party at the Japnese Cultural Center, said that he was confident about his candidate’s eventual victory.
“I’m very optimistic,” he noted. “At this point, we just need to keep pushing forward.”
Kaneshiro, who has volunteered for the congresswoman’s campaign as a canvasser and phone bank worker since early June, said that he was never swayed by Lingle’s claims of being a bipartisan leader.
For him, memories of Lingle ordering the arrest of parents who came to the state capitol in protest of public school furloughs are still fresh, and were a key factor in his decision to get involved in Hirono’s campaign.
“[The furlough issue] could have been handled better,” Kaneshiro added.
Another Hirono supporter, Roger Takabayashi, was also adamant about differentiating his candidate from her Republican opponent. As a former president of the Hawaii State Teacher’s Association, Takabayashi said that he has worked with both Hirono and Lingle, and that he believes the congresswoman understands his educational priorities better than her opponent does.
“She was always very receptive and open, especially on early childhood education,” he explained.
Takabayashi also emphasized his skepticism of Lingle’s image as a moderate and a bipartisan, saying that sending a Republican to the Senate along with Hawai‘i’s senior Democratic senator Daniel Inouye, would be counterproductive. To that end, he believed that a vote for Lingle amounted to one against Inouye.
“Better to have two on the same page,” he said.
Hirono’s campaign manager Betsy Lin said that she believes the congresswoman’s campaign was successful in countering Lingle’s claims to working extensively with both Democrats and Republicans. In an interview with Ka Leo after the last printout of the night, Lin noted that while the former governor touted that image throughout the campaign, she was unable to give many specific examples to support that appearance.
Meanwhile, she believes that her campaign succeeded in projecting such an image for Hirono by presenting voters with the congresswoman’s track record, including her collaboration with U.S. Representative Don Young, a Republican from Alaska, on legislation affecting indigenous peoples in Alaska as well as native Hawaiians.
“It’s one thing to say it, and another to do it,” she said of working across the aisle.
Moreover, Lin emphasized the historic nature of Hirono’s win, noting that she is now the first Asian-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate. She also highlighted the senator-elect’s background as an immigrant from Japan who came to Hawai‘i with her mother and brother after the World War II.
“She came to the U.S. with the clothes on her back, and she couldn’t speak English. Now, she is part of the most exclusive club in the land,” Lin explained.
Hirono’s manager said she believes that narrative, along with an agenda that matches the values of Hawai‘i’s people, allowed Hirono to connect with voters and claim victory.
In her victory speech at Democratic Headquarters on Tuesday night, Hirono thanked Lingle for “a vigorous campaign” and vowed to represent all the citizens of Hawai‘i, regardless of who they supported in the election. Speaking after the second and third rounds of state returns had been released, the congresswoman also thanked her volunteers, and acknowledged their role in her ground campaign, especially in the final days of the race.
“You are all part of my ‘ohana,” Hirono said.
The senator-elect also acknowledged her soon-to-be predecessor, Sen. Daniel Akaka, whose decision to retire led to the contest between Hirono and Lingle.
“It gives me great honor to hold the seat that he has held for so long,” she said.
Hirono will officially assume the seat when the 113th Congress convenes in Washington on Jan. 3, 2013.