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Ex-Gov. Lingle is underdog in Hawaii Senate race

Strange doings are afoot in deep blue Hawaii, where the new Democratic governor, ex-Rep. Neil Abercrombie, is the most unpopular governor in the nation according to one pollster, and the old governor, Republican Linda Lingle, is now mounting a credible bid for the state’s open Senate seat.

Democratic firm Public Policy Polling gave Abercrombie, who saw four top staffers resign earlier this month, the dubious distinction after its polling showed his approval at a dismal 30% approval/56% disapproval. That puts him below some of PPP’s other poor performers, such as Govs. Rick Scott (R-FL) and John Kasich (R-OH).

Meanwhile, PPP also found that Lingle, reelected handily in heavily Democratic 2006, was only down six points to the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, Rep. Mazie Hirono. Lingle was leading the other contender for the nomination, ex-Rep. Ed Case. Case — whose congressional bid last year against now-Rep. Colleen Hanabusa split the Democratic vote, allowing Republican Charles Djou to briefly hold Hawaii’s First Congressional District after a special election — is deeply disliked by the Aloha State’s Democratic establishment, so Hirono is the preferred candidate.

Lingle, who doesn’t shy away from being called a RINO (Republican in Name Only), is an impressive recruiting victory for national Republicans, and she makes what could have been a yawner of a race to replace the retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) into, instead, a real competition.

Given Republican opportunities elsewhere — Democrats could have more than a dozen competitive seats to defend next year — the GOP wins even if Lingle loses, so long as national Democrats need to spend precious resources in order to keep the seat blue — precious resources that they won’t be able to use elsewhere.

But let’s not forget that native Hawaiian Barack Obama will also be on the ballot next year, and he took more than 70% of the vote in Hawaii in 2008. He should pile up a big victory this time, too, which means Lingle — who introduced Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican convention (Hawaiians may not know that now but they will by the end of the campaign — will need a lot of ticket-splitting to win.

So, we continue to rate this race Leans Democratic.

Kyle Kondik

Snoozers approach on November ballot

Perhaps the three biggest races in the upcoming Nov. 8 off-year general elections are all shaping up to be pretty uncompetitive.

For the first two, that isn’t a surprise. For months, it’s been clear that Republican Phil Bryant would win the open Mississippi governor’s chair (Republican Haley Barbour is term-limited) and that incumbent Democratic Gov. Steve Beshear would win a second term in Kentucky. But the apparent uncompetitiveness of the third — a referendum on Ohio’s Senate Bill 5, which restricts the rights of public sector unions — is something of a surprise.

Two national polling outfits, PPP and Quinnipiac, have both shown the referendum on the GOP-backed union restrictions (Issue 2 in Ohio) losing by 20 points or more. Even with the necessary caveats — it’s hard to poll issue elections, turnout is unpredictable in off-years — it appears that labor is in a good position to win this high-profile battle handily.

What do we take from these off-year elections? Nothing. They have zero predictive value for next year.

Kyle Kondik