What do Dick Cheney, Al Gore and Alexandra Kerry have in common? They're coming to the latest and oddest entrant in the"look at me, I'm a swing state!" category: Hawai'i. Clinton did video chats with our TV stations, too. Hawai'i has been a solidly Democratic state, so reliable that only incredibly popular incumbent Republican presidents (Nixon, Reagan) have won here since statehood forty-five years ago. The last time a member of the national ticket campaigned here was in 1960: VP candidate Richard Nixon visited Hawai'i. But now we have a Republican governor (inexplicably endorsed by my own faculty union, for all the good that did us), Linda Lingle, who is campaigning hard for Bush/Cheney here and nationally, and the game is afoot.
The combination of strong labor unions (Hawai'i is still, I think, the most unionized state in the union, so to speak) and a solidly Democratic Japanese American community (the largest ethnicity in the state) has kept this state one of the least contested, most political machine-like in the country. But demographics (rising Caucasian numbers in particular, plus a softening of Japanese American support for the Democrats), the relative decline of union strength, the centrality of military affairs to the islands and the rise of a more diverse business community (which routinely votes its own state as the worst in the nation for doing business) has produced a tidal shift. Democrats still control the state legislature, but not as overwhelmingly as they used to.
There are some more specific issues at play in Hawai'i. As the AP story above notes,"With the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, Hawaii has none of the economic problems that many states on the mainland have. The islands are in the midst of a construction boom. Tourism is soaring after recovering from the Sept. 11 attacks." [Rant-On] Of course that's not what we were hearing from our governor when we were negotiating, but it's the story she tells in post-debate 'spin alley.' I still think we should have had the strike vote. [Rant-Off] That doesn't mean that anyone can afford to live here, of course, and that's a point that the new crop of TV ads is targeting. Lots of Hawai'i-based military forces are in, or are training for, Iraq and Afghanistan, and though they are considered generally pro-Bush, there's some undercurrents of concern as well, particularly among our heavily mobilized National Guard population. Democrats say, nervously, it's still a strong Kerry state; Republicans are crowing about being competitive and pulling out the stops in local campaigns (I've gotten a whole bunch of automated phone"poll" calls and my mailbox is dripping with Republican flyers). All I can say is that I feel sorry for you folks on the mainland if you have to wait until our polls close at 11pm Eastern Time.
p.s. Here is the single weirdest (non-terrorist related) election scenario I've read yet: Acting President John Edwards.
p.p.s. Adam Kotsko has some proposals for the next election cycle. He's an idealist, as am I, but that doesn't mean we're wrong.
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Robert KC Johnson - 10/29/2004
Yes, this is true--it is one reason why Alaska was admitted first: Southern Dems were less opposed to it. The first Alaska legislature was 90% Democratic, partly because the Dems had been the pro-statehood party while the Alaska GOP was ambivalent on it, and partly because the Dems had strongly supported using federal funds to promote Alaska economic development. During the late 1960s and especially the 1970s with the AK pipeline and environmental issues, the state swung heavily to the GOP: Alaska no longer needed federal assistance.
As to Hawai'i, the swing largely came about due to the creation of an effective political machine uniting Daniel Inouye (the state's first at-large representative, elected to the Senate in 1962), John Burns (the state's first gov.), and the International Longshoreman's Union. The politics of civil rights, meanwhile, fortified the Democratic strength in the islands. Since Fong's retirement in 1976, only Pat Saiki has won a federal election (she served three terms in the House before losing a Senate bid to Daniel Akaka), and Saiki was first elected under highly unusual circumstances.
Ralph E. Luker - 10/29/2004
I have a question, KC. Jon and I discussed it via e-mail. My recollection is that, at the time of their admission to the union, it was expected that Alaska would become a Democratic Party staple and that Hawai'i would become a reliably Republican Party state. That was, of course, in the days of Hiram Fong and Ernest Gruening. Am I correct in recalling that? If so, how does one explain why both of the newest states departed so dramatically from those expectations?
Robert KC Johnson - 10/29/2004
Hawai'i does have a tradition, though, of favoring incumbents in presidential elections (1972, 1984). My guess is that Kerry will rebound in the state, but there are a variety of scenarios in which losing the state could be devastating to Kerry.