When the junior senator from Hawaii, Democrat Daniel K. Akaka, announced last year that he wouldn't seek a fifth term, the Republican Party immediately set its sights on the seat, viewing it as a tough but possible pickup in its quest to retake control of the Senate.
But despite former Gov. Linda Lingle running what has been considered a stronger campaign than her Democratic opponent, Rep. Mazie K. Hirono, the Aloha State's partisan blue tide — strengthened this year by native son President Obama at the top of the ballot — appears too much for her — or any other Republican.
"I think a lot of Republicans are impressed with the campaign Lingle has been running in a difficult state [for the party], but in that type of environment, I think it's just going to be too much to overcome," said Jessica Taylor, a senior analyst and reporter with the Rothenberg Political Report.
"Lingle is probably the only Republican they could've got to run that will even make this close. But making it close ultimately isn't going to be enough."
The moderate Ms. Lingle promised to govern in a bipartisan and compromising manner — a decidedly atypical strategy for a Republican this year but one born out of necessity because of Hawaii's strong Democratic traditions. A recent pro-Lingle ad funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce touted her "positive, bipartisan agenda" and praised her for working across the partisan aisle as governor.
She also has run on strengthening one of the state's main economic engines: tourism.
"Lingle has been an exceptionally good candidate so [the race] is worth watching for the time being," said Jennifer Duffy, who covers Senate races for the Cook Political Report.
Only one independent poll has been taken since the race's August primaries — a survey commissioned by Hawaii's Civil Beat news organization released Monday that showed Mrs. Hirono with a 16-point advantage over Ms. Lingle. The Democrat also led the former governor in all major independent polling in pre-primary surveys that asked voters which of the two would win a head-to-head general election contest.
But polling in Hawaii has been notoriously off the mark in recent elections, making the race tricker to handicap, said Todd Belt, chairman of the University of Hawaii political science department.
"We tend to be pretty skeptical of the polling here," he said.
Ms. Lingle generally had favorable public reviews during most of her eight years in office, which ended in 2010 because of term limits. But her popularity took a nose dive during the final two years, when the economic downturn that began in 2008 led her to impose cost-saving furloughs of public workers, including teachers.
Those final two years are still fresh in voters' minds, Mr. Belt said.
"I wouldn't necessarily call it a cake walk, but I think Mazie Hirono will win pretty handily," he said.
Yet Ms. Lingle has raised $4.4 million — about $1 million more than Mrs. Hirono. With the Republican Party within striking distance of taking back the Senate, some analysts say, a fresh wave of party, political action committee and super PAC money could flood the race on her behalf in the coming weeks if backers think she has a shot, potentially setting up a close finish to Election Day.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has purchased several rounds of TV ads on behalf of the Lingle campaign, including a more than $300,000 buy less than two weeks ago.
But short of big haul of outside cash, analysts closely monitoring the race say, the odds are stacked too much against the Republican.
"When you're dealing with super PACs, they are a lot less responsible of what they say than the candidates, and therefore it's very difficult to predict this race" if super PACs became heavily involved, Mr. Belt said. "But barring that, I don't see much of a problem for Congresswoman Hirono moving up to the Senate."
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