Linda Lingle's image has rebounded over the last 7 months after she left office unpopular, and it looks like she might be able to make the Hawaii Senate race competitive.
When PPP polled the state in March, shortly after Lingle's second term as Governor ended, only 41% of voters in the state had a favorable opinion of her to 51% with a negative one. Those poor numbers had her running 17 points behind Ed Case and 12 points behind Mazie Hirono in hypothetical head to head match ups.
The passage of time appears to have done Lingle some good though. Her favorability is up 5 points to 46% while her negatives have dropped 8 points to 43%. And with that improvement in her image has come an improvement in her standing against her potential opponents. She now trails Hirono by just 6 points at 48-42, and she actually leads Case by 2 points at 45-43.
There are 2 things a Republican has to do to win in a state as heavily Democratic as Hawaii: win independents by a wide margin and get a significant amount of crossover support from Democrats. Lingle leads both Case and Hirono by 26 points with independents, so she's getting that done. And she gets 24% of the Democratic vote against Case. But against Hirono she can only get 17% crossover support and she'd need more than that to pull off an upset next November.
Ed Case is significantly more popular (46/30 fav) with Republicans and independents then Mazie Hirono (23/59 fav) is. Usually when that's the case you would expect him to poll better in general election match ups. The problem for Case is that even if Republicans and independents like him more than Hirono, they don't give him any more support against Lingle (he trails 65-20 with those groups) than Hirono (who trails 66-19 with those groups.) They might like him, but it doesn't mean they're voting for him. Meanwhile Hirono is much better liked by Democrats (71/16) than Case is (51/25) so she does a better job of holding onto her base in the head to head with Lingle.
Hirono starts out with a small advantage over Case in the primary, 45-40. Race and ideology are signficant dividers. Hirono leads Case 72-20 with voters describing themselves as 'very liberal.' Case has a 45-39 advantage with the folks who fall into any of the other ideological categories but his deficit with folks on the left right now is too much to overcome. Case is up by 23 points with white voters but with the other 2 major ethnic groups in Hawaii he's getting trounced- Hirono is up by 18 with both Asians and native Hawaiians.
We also tested John Carroll, the other Republican candidate in the race, and he shows the extent to which this race being competitive is dependent on Lingle. He trails Case by 39 points at 60-21, and has a 27 point deficit to Hirono at 56-29. Fortunately for the GOP his prospects at winning the nomination look to be close to zero- primary numbers we released yesterday showed him trailing Lingle 85-9.
It's hard to imagine Republicans winning a Senate race in Hawaii with Barack Obama on the ballot. But these numbers make it clear Democrats are going to have to worry about it at least a little bit, just another headache in an election cycle where it will be difficult for them to hold onto their majority in the Senate.
Full results here