Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, announced on Tuesday she is running for the U.S. Senate, setting up a major statewide political showdown in the race to replace U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka, who is retiring.
Democrats U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, former Rep. Ed Case, and Office of Hawaiian Affairs Advocate Esther Kiaaina have announced their candidacies.
Lingle faces Republican John Carroll, an attorney and former state lawmaker, in the primary.
"It wasn't an easy decision to enter the Senate race," said Lingle in a speech before the Sales and Marketing Executives International lunch meeting at the Pacific Club Tuesday.
Having a Republican in the U.S. Senate is "critically important to Hawaii," Lingle said, especially since the GOP is expected to take over the U.S. Senate next year.
"Having a senator from each party is the very best possible situation for us. Because it doesn't matter which party is in control. We will always have one of our senators within that caucus and able to bring our issues forward," Lingle said.
She said, "it won't be an easy race," with Democratic President Barack Obama on the ballot for reelection next year and two "strong opponents" in the Senate race, referring to Case and Hirono.
Lingle said she expects to raise between eight and ten million dollars in the race. She held a fundraiser Tuesday night at Waialae Country Club, where she expected to raise close to $500,000, Lingle said.
"The values of the far-right Republicans in Washington that Linda wants to join are not Hawaii's values," Case said. "Their idea of change has not been good for our country and doesn't offer a solution for most Americans. Linda will just become another senator pursuing an agenda for the few at the expense of most."
"Republican Linda Lingle's announcement today isn't particularly surprising," said Hirono campaign finance Chairwoman Jadine Nielsen in a statement. "The national Republican Party has been anxious to move Lingle back to center stage as they did at the 2008 Republican National Convention, when Lingle went on national television to second Sarah Palin's nomination for Vice President and endorse the McCain-Palin ticket over our island son, Barack Obama," Nielsen said.
Hirono did not release a statement or make herself available for interviews Tuesday.
Republican Lingle will once again run for statewide office in a state dominated by Democrats -- where 70 percent of the voters backed Barack Obama for president in 2008.
"Voters are very discerning. They're not robots. They don't just go down the line. They vote what's in the interest of their family and their business in Hawaii. And they're going to do the same thing here," Lingle said.
"Lingle's record is not getting along, not crossing the bridges, eight years of not accomplishing anything across the aisle," said Case. "And she did in fact go out there and endorse Sarah Palin, who is about as far right as you can get. And she wanted Sarah Palin to be the vice president of this country. And you cannot get away from that," Case said.
Lingle said Democrats have repeatedly tried to tie her to national Republicans who are unpopular in Hawaii.
"The reason it won't work is because the people of Hawaii know me. They know I have never put my political party before the people of Hawaii," Lingle said.
Lingle named retired Gen. Robert Lee as her campaign manager. Lee headed the state national guard as state adjutant general during Lingle's eight years as governor.
Case has named Lloyd Nekoba, a veteran of the campaigns of Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Gov. Ben Cayetano, as his campaign manager.
The Pacific Club, where Lingle spoke Tuesday, did not admit women as members until 1984 and allowed its first asian American members in 1968.
Lingle is 58 years old, significantly younger than her GOP opponent Carroll, who is 81. Carroll is six years younger than Akaka and Dan Inouye, Hawaii's two current U.S. senators, who are both 87 years old.
She also said her highest priorities will be job creation and economic growth. Lingle said if elected, she will act as the point person for tourism in America. She also said she wants the federal government to conduct a jobs impact study to figure out how many jobs might be lost before it implements new rules and regulations.