BY SAM SLOM – If Neil Abercrombie is elected Hawaii’s Governor next Tuesday, November 2, he will have James Duke Aiona‘s lackluster campaign to thank. At this writing, polls reflect a close race with Abercrombie pulling ahead. Aiona should win this race.
Heavily favored at the start of the campaign, Abercrombie, a former State Senator, City Councilman and 20-year-member of Congress from Hawaii’s 1st District, smoked (no pun intended) former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann in Hawaii’s September primary, 60% to 38%.
Many people were shocked, thinking it was going to be extremely close. Hannemann had the support of all the unions, except the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, but that wasn’t enough.
Hannemann’s poor treatment of certain individuals and organizations and the campaign promises that were not kept, caught up with him. But so far, that has not been the case with Abercrombie.
After beating Hannemann, Abercrombie looked like a slam-dunk winner for the governor’s seat. His strategy seems flawless. Just a few people started critically looking at Abercrombie’s record, some past statements and current stand on issues. The first major polls surprised many by showing Abercrombie and Aiona in a near dead heat.
Then came Aiona’s campaign.
The soft, Mainland produced, “Rise and Shine” advertising theme left many Republicans and Independents unimpressed.
People waited for Aiona to become more passionate and lively. They had heard about his temper but he was calm, very calm. They waited for him to take on Abercrombie on the tough issues in a tough way. They are still waiting.
On the other hand, Abercrombie, a bona fide sixties Marxist hippie, known for fiery rhetoric and expletives not deleted, is the model of calmness and respectability this time around.
Abercrombie’s campaign advisors have done a truly remarkable job and obviously he has listened to them. His once unruly beard is now professionally and cleanly displayed – although a great deal of the credit for that goes back to the ’90s campaigns against respected POW Orson Swindle.
Abercrombie, famous for his rants on the House floor, and “F-You” letter replies, now speaks softly. He looks you in the eye. On television, he is polite and respectful. He speaks in vague generalities of jobs and helping small businesses. He even has the President of the United States robo calling for him.
Democrats in Hawaii talk about our “keiki” and “change”, but they have a parade of the oldest and most entrenched politicians in the Nation. That’s a fact.
Senators Dan Inouye (in office for more than 50 years) and Dan Akaka, are both 86; Abercrombie is 72, though his running mate Brian Schatz is considerably younger.
But Abercrombie displays more energy and animation than the younger Aiona. We all know of Abercrombie’s weight lifting and bench-pressing capability because he likes to talk about it – especially when he was head of the House gym committee. Very gregarious, he is a hard-charging, proven campaigner.
Democrats also boast of diversity, yet the diversity team is Aiona (Hawaiian) and a Filipina woman, Lynn Finnegan. But there seems to be little traction from this obvious choice. Unlike Mufi Hannemann’s campaign, they choose not to exploit this comparison.
Aiona’s campaign and advisors seem reluctant at best to take on Abercrombie on the very issues and character traits that would tend to seal Aiona’s victory.
They apparently don’t want to get involved in controversy and are relying heavily on support from evangelical and other religious groups.
If those voters do turn out in record numbers, it may be enough. But there seems to be little concern for other likely voters. Abercrombie has reaped the benefits of this void and that is why his results are rising.
For example, talk to any Hawaii Vietnam era veteran-any one– and they will remind you that Abercrombie spewed invectives and hatred toward American troops during Vietnam. He participated in, and led, several rallies against our troops and country. He openly sided during the Vietnam War with the North Vietnamese.
At one time, Abercrombie ranked so low in Vietnam veterans’ eyes, that he was compared to Jane Fonda in the widely held perception of helping our enemy.
But you won’t hear a word about this controversy in this campaign.
Instead, there are active military personnel in one of Abercrombie’s television ads and they are singing his praises for getting them equipment in Iraq when he was a member of the Armed Services Committee.
Abercrombie, and the local Democrat machine, bash the Lingle-Aiona 8-year administration every chance they get.
There is only a half-hearted defense and response from the current Lt. Governor. Even Gov. Linda Lingle is seen more often attacking the Democrats’ statements while Aiona is silent. Though most of the Democrats’ attacks are erroneous and there are many positive accomplishments to take credit for.
It’s kind of a rope-a-dope defense instead of actively and positively standing up for your accomplishments. Supporters want to see and hear that.
My involvement with Abercrombie goes back to our University of Hawaii days together – though I am younger, taller, have more hair and a firmer grasp on reality.
And, for full disclosure, during Vietnam, I headed up the conservative, pro-American, Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) in support of our men and women in uniform, while Abercrombie was a supporter of the anti-American, left wing Students for a Democratic Society (SDS).
Abercrombie was then an avowed Marxist and anti-free market advocate. He hasn’t changed.
Again, the Aiona campaign gives him a free ride on this issue.
Those of us who are Jewish, find particularly repugnant Abercrombie’s unabashed strong support – the strongest in the U.S. House – for the Palestinians terrorists – and also are outraged at his constant attacks against Israel.
But we hear no strong position from the Aiona campaign on this issue either.
Excessive taxes, spending, debt, corporate bailouts, union special treatment and government intervention by Abercrombie, get little meaningful challenge from Aiona’s camp.
Aiona has a good record on small business but needs to explain it better.
Abercrombie says, “We have a clear choice in this election.”
But this doesn’t seem to resonate with the hesitant Republican campaign.
If Aiona and Finnegan do win Tuesday, the strategy will be described as “brilliant.”
Aiona-Finnegan team has a great deal of firepower but doesn’t seem to want to lock and load. There needs to be more “fire in the belly” to carry the day.