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Hawaii, a Democratic bastion, may tilt GOP

GOP gubernatorial candidate Linda Lingle is capitalizing on tarnished image of the Democrats.

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Like clockwork, voters in Hawaii have elected a Democratic governor for the past 40 years, the country's longest-running gubernatorial winning streak.

But it might come to an end this year: Republican candidate Linda Lingle has amassed considerable support for the Nov. 5 election.

In terms of party membership, Hawaii remains one of the most staunchly Democratic states in the nation. But a series of prominent Democratic county and state politicians have been convicted on criminal charges. Those blemishes, along with Democrats' inability to lift the state from an economic slump, have fueled discontent with the political status quo and engendered a "throw the bums out" mentality.

The rise of a Republican candidate could also reflect changing demographics in the 50th state: In recent years, it's seen an influx of relatively conservative retirees.

These waves have already lapped at Democratic domination in Hawaii. In the state Legislature, 20 of the 51 representatives wear Republican colors, including a number who beat high-profile Democratic favorites in their last election.

Lingle herself nearly turned over the Democratic apple cart in 1998. The daughter of a St. Louis car dealer and a former mayor of Maui, she lost a heated battle to Gov. Benjamin Cayetano by 5,200 votes, or 1 percent of the tally. (Term limits prohibit Mr. Cayetano from seeking reelection.)

In the four years since that defeat, Lingle has had time to regroup. The Democrats, on the other hand, seemed to hit bottom in late May, when the Democratic front-runner for the governor's slot, Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris, withdrew in the face of fundraising corruption allegations. His departure left the party in disarray as it faced a bitter three-way primary – a rarity in a state where anointed Democratic candidates generally sail through the first round.

The winner of the Democratic primary, Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, has had her work cut out. Closely tied to a governor who was unpopular with powerful unions, Ms. Hirono has struggled to avoid being tarred by her own party's misdeeds and inbred political culture.


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