Smooth-Talking Lingle Gets Under Hirono's Skin


UPDATED 9:30 a.m.

Mazie Hirono and Linda Lingle went after each other Monday night in their second of five debates before the Nov. 6 election, and the first debate broadcast on television statewide.

At issue was the "economy/health security" — primarily Social Security and Medicare — as debate sponsor AARP Hawaii put it in a press release. As Civil Beat has reported, AARP is in the midst of an educational campaign to get members to wake up to the financial problems the programs face.

Yet, the debate did not break any new ground on the candidates' positions on entitlements.

For example, Hirono, the U.S. representative, says she would raise the payroll tax cap to help fund Social Security. So would Lingle, the former Hawaii governor.

When it comes to Medicare, Hirono wants to stop fraud and abuse of the system while Lingle wants seniors to have more choices in coverage, noting that 43 percent of Hawaii residents use Medicare Advantage plans.

It was on other issues that revealed more of the candidates and provided insights into what kind of senator they would be.

As she did with Ed Case in the primary, Hirono pointed out that Lingle supported the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, in contrast to Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye who did not.

But Lingle was prepared with a powerful response: That she had never seen Hirono at change-of-command ceremonies, deployment sendoffs or visiting with the families of service members, as Lingle has.

"It's one thing to say you support the troops and another to show up and grieve with families that gave the ultimate sacrifice," said Lingle.

Lingle zinged Hirono again when she observed that Hirono voted against the South Korean free trade agreement championed by the other members of Hawaii's delegation and President Barack Obama.

True to form, Lingle was smooth and unflappable, staring directly into the camera when answering questions and smiling frequently, though the smiles sometimes seemed forced. She also gave detailed answers, like where she agrees with Obamacare — on covering pre-existing conditions, for example — and where she does not, such as its failure to address medical malpractice reform.

Hirono was less smooth and less detailed, relying on familiar tropes such as calling Lingle "my Republican opponent" and repeating words like "clearly," "strengthen" and "kupuna" over and over. She did not smile often, and she mostly directed her answers to KHON2's Gina Mangieri, who moderated the debate, and panelists Gerald Kato and Jerry Burris.

It was not a knockout punch like the one Mitt Romney gave Obama in their first presidential debate, and Hirono will probably bounce back in the next debate. But there is something about Lingle that sometimes seems to bring out the worst in Hirono.

Have feedback? Suggestions?