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As Hawaii Democrats battle, RGA goes up with ads

By Aaron Blake

House Republicans aren't the only ones stretching the map beyond the lower 48, as the Republican Governors Association is going up with ads in Hawaii.

Three months after Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) won a key special election in one of the blue state's two House districts, the RGA is signaling that it thinks it can win that state's governor's race too.

The TV and radio ads are 100 percent positive and don't mention Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona's (R) Democratic opponents. They feature Aiona himself and talk about his efforts to control drugs in the state.

The state represents a tough hold for the RGA, with term-limited Gov. Linda Lingle (R) on the way out and Aiona trailing by double digits in most early polling. The Cook Political Report ranks it as the toughest seat for Republicans to hold.

But the pre-primary ad buy is a strong signal the RGA doesn't intend to concede the state. The committee has only gone up with ads in eight other states so far, out of more than 20 competitive races.

The committee wouldn't comment on the size of the ad buy -- saying only that it is "substantial," statewide and on broadcast TV, along with cable and the radio -- but the fact that it's going up with ads at all is notable.

Influencing its decision was a late June poll for the RGA by the Tarrance Group, which showed Aiona pulling neck-and-neck with both top Democrats -- Rep. Neil Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. And Republicans are hopeful that a nasty, expensive Democratic primary that is the latest in the nation (Sept. 18) will help their chances.

The poll showed Aiona trailing Hannemann 45 percent to 43 percent and Abercrombie 48 percent to 42 percent.

Aiona also shows superior favorability numbers, at 61 percent positive and 25 percent negative. Both are better than Hannemann (54/39) and Abercrombie (52/36).

Another Tarrance poll for Aiona's campaign, conducted the week before the RGA poll, showed him trailing Abercrombie by three and leading Hannemann by four.

A Ward Research poll for local media in April showed Abercrombie up 14 and Hannemann up 13. The congressman led the primary 36 percent to 32 percent.

Aiona is raising less money than both Democrats, getting outraised about two-to-one by both in the first six months of the year. But he has more cash on hand ($719,000) than Abercrombie ($469,000), and Hannemann will likely have to spend significantly from his $2 million war chest. (See our governor's fundraising chart here.)

Democratic Governors Association spokeswoman Emily Bittner said the RGA ads amount to a bailout for Aiona.

"Eight years as lieutenant governor, and he still needs to call in reinforcements from D.C. to say something positive about him," Bittner said. "This flight of ads is an admission of his weakness as a candidate, and it's one of the reasons we feel so good about our chances in November."

The RGA has previously gone up with ads in California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Ohio and Wisconsin.

By Aaron Blake  |  August 5, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
Categories:  Governors  
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