- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

Traditionally Democratic Hawaii emerged suddenly in the final weeks of the presidential campaign as a battleground state that could go to either President Bush or Sen. John Kerry today, prompting both parties to pay it some last-minute attention.

Two recent polls in the Aloha State showed the candidates statistically tied there. As a result, both parties began running last-minute ads and sent some top emissaries there to rally the vote.

Vice President Dick Cheney campaigned at a rally in Honolulu on Sunday — an indication the Bush campaign believes the state’s four electoral votes could play a pivotal role.

“I was in the neighborhood and thought I’d stop by and say ‘Aloha,’” Mr. Cheney joked to the crowd before getting serious. “Hawaii is a vital state in this election, and President Bush and I would be honored to have your vote.”

Democrats sent former Vice President Al Gore and Mr. Kerry’s eldest daughter, Alexandra, there as well over the weekend.

Democratic National Committee spokesman Josh Earnest said Democrats know every vote will count.

“What our new activity indicates is that we’re not taking a single vote for granted,” he said. “We’re investing time, effort and money to make sure we get to 270 electoral votes, and we’re confident we’re going to get there.”

The renewed look at Hawaii was prompted largely by a poll by the Honolulu Advertiser conducted Oct 13-18, which showed Mr. Bush and Mr. Kerry tied at 43 percent, with 12 percent undecided. Another poll by SMS research, taken Oct. 17-20, showed Mr. Bush with 46 percent and Mr. Kerry with 45 percent.

“This strays so far from everything we’re known for,” said Rebecca Ward of Ward Research, which conducted the Honolulu Advertiser poll.

Ms. Ward said 31 percent of Mr. Bush’s support in her poll came from traditionally Democratic voters, but the poll did not ask for reasons. Still, she said, this doesn’t necessarily mean a Bush victory, since the undecideds are more likely to lean Democratic.

Greg Gaydos, associate professor of political science at Hawaii Pacific University, said national security is playing a big role. He noted that while those who opposed the war in Iraq are voting overwhelmingly for Mr. Kerry and those who support it are voting overwhelmingly for Mr. Bush, those who aren’t sure how they feel about it are leaning towards Mr. Bush.

“They’re giving President Bush the benefit of the doubt. They see him as the stronger leader on this,” he said.

Hawaii has voted just twice since statehood in 1959 for a Republican presidential candidate — Richard Nixon in 1972 and Ronald Reagan in 1984, when each man was running for his second term. Mr. Gore won the state by more than 18 percentage points in 2000.

Still, there have been some signs of change. Hawaii elected a Republican governor, Linda Lingle, in 2002, only the second Republican to hold the office in the state’s 45 years of statehood and its first since 1962.

Republican National Committee spokesman Jim Dyke said the GOP’s Hawaii effort was not an indication that Republicans think they will desperately need it to put them over the top, but rather an indication “of how widely we’ve expanded the playing field.”

“To be competitive … in a state that Al Gore won handily in 2000, we think, is an indication of how broad the president’s support is.”

Republican analyst Scott Reed last week said the close numbers in Hawaii probably caused some “gnashing of teeth over at Kerry headquarters,” but in the end, the state will still probably go for Mr. Kerry.

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