Copyright ©2012 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. This year, Republican hopes of capturing the Senate rest on a handful of toss-ups - toss-up races in states like Montana, Missouri and Virginia. Surprisingly, some analysts also put Hawaii in the toss-up column. As states go, it's the bluest of blue. Hawaii hasn't elected a Republican to the Senate since 1970. But with the retirement of 22-year incumbent Daniel Akaka, Republicans believe they have a chance. NPR's Martin Kaste explains why.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: The language of politics is a little different in Hawaii. Take a listen to Congresswoman Mazie Hirono delivering her version of the customary Democratic talking points.

REPRESENTATIVE MAZIE HIRONO: Our next United States senator should share our values. Those are the values of protecting our kupuna - why? I am such a strong voice for making sure that Social Security and Medicare remain strong for our kupuna. We need to protect our keiki.

KASTE: Keiki means children. Kupuna, as you may guess from the context, means elders, or in this case, seniors who vote. Hirono's opponent for the Senate seat, Linda Lingle, also uses some unusual vocabulary, especially when describing herself.

LINDA LINGLE: A haole, Republican, Jewish woman from the mainland.

KASTE: Haoles or whites are a minority in Hawaii, as are Republicans. So it was quite the upset when Lingle beat Hirono in the governor's race in 2002. Lingle says voters here are capable of crossing the partisan divide.

LINGLE: They elected me and re-elected me with the largest margin in state history as a Republican. They know I'm a Republican, but they know I also put people first. So what does it mean in Hawaii to be a Republican? It means I'm a fiscal conservative, I'm a strong supporter of our military, but I'm also pro-choice. I'm a Hawaii Republican. I'm not a national Republican.

KASTE: Hirono, on the other hand, likes to refer to Lingle as the Republicans' top draft pick for the race, and she constantly reminds Hawaii voters of the math in the Senate.

HIRONO: You know, regardless of how people feel about Linda Lingle, she is going to be one of the votes that the Republicans need nationally to totally take control over the U.S. Senate and push their agenda.

KASTE: Hirono warns that a Lingle win would mean one more vote in the Senate to repeal President Obama's health care law. Asked if that's true, Lingle dismisses it as a campaign question. She says she likes certain aspects of the law, but if she were presented with a simple choice of keeping or repealing the whole law, she'd get rid of it.

LINGLE: If we're going to keep everything that's in there now or not, I would not support this.

KASTE: But Lingle insists it won't come to that.

LINGLE: And I don't believe that will ever be the only question. I'm a serious person. This is a serious issue. I think we need to approach it in a serious way, even though we're in campaign season.

KASTE: It speaks volumes about Hawaii, the fact that a Republican is this reluctant to talk about repealing the president's health care law. Dan Boylan is a history professor and liberal political columnist. He says locals still have great pride in their native-son president, and they think he's been treated shabbily by mainland Republicans.

DAN BOYLAN: They resent very much this birther aspect of the Republican Party or the Tea Party movement or the crazies, whoever they are, who keep questioning whether where Barack Obama was born. We know where he was born.

KASTE: So Democratic turnout will be big, he says. Lingle's challenge is to convince some of the president's supporters to split their ballots.

BOYLAN: If any Republican can get elected to the Senate from this state, Linda Lingle can do it.

KASTE: Lingle does appear to have an edge when it comes to money, and she benefits from third-party advertising by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. So far, the few public polls give a significant edge to the Democrat Hirono. But the ad war is just warming up. And there's an expectation in Hawaii that voter preferences won't firm up until next month when the candidates are scheduled for a series of televised debates. Martin Kaste, NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.