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Collins visits Hawaii to stump for Republican Senate candidate

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks Tuesday, April 3, 2012 in Westbrook.
By Derrick DePledge, Honolulu Star-Advertiser

HONOLULU, Hawaii — U.S. Sen. Susan Collins on Wednesday described excessive partisanship as the “overarching problem” in Washington, D.C., causing gridlock that has prevented meaningful action to reduce the national debt, unemployment and high energy costs.

The Maine Republican, who spoke at a fundraiser for Republican Linda Lingle’s U.S. Senate campaign at the Sheraton Waikiki, said she believes the former governor would work with others in the political center toward bipartisan solutions.

“I am confident she could help bridge that partisan divide in Washington,” Collins said. “If those of us who are in the center, and believe that you should sit down and negotiate and actually try to solve problems rather than score political points, don’t start expanding the number of people in the center, we’re just going to continue to face gridlock and stalemate.”

Lingle considers Collins, a moderate first elected in 1996, a model for how she would approach the Senate if elected.

Collins, citing the low job approval ratings for Congress, said she thinks voters are most unhappy with “people who campaign as common-sense pragmatists and then go to Washington and become lock-step partisans.”

The senator said she has “enormous respect” for U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate president pro tempore. “He is an example of a senator who can work with both sides, and does,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former congressman Ed Case are the Democratic contenders to replace retiring U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii. Case, a moderate, has made his potential to work with centrists in the Senate a campaign theme.

Democrats have tried to undercut Lingle’s bipartisan message by linking her to conservatives who are unpopular in the islands, pointing to her support of former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for vice president in 2008 and her appearances at fundraisers this year with U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

“We extend our aloha to Senator Collins,” Charles Freedman, the communications director for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, said in a statement. “However, her being here doesn’t mask the fact that Linda Lingle has run huge fundraisers on the mainland with Republicans who are trying to block women’s access to contraception, make deep cuts in our children’s education and force Hawaii seniors to pay thousands more for health care, all while keeping taxes low for millionaires and corporate special interests.”

Political analysts believe Lingle’s main obstacle will be persuading enough independents and Democrats, who will support the Hawaii-born Obama’s re-election in November, to also vote for her.

Collins said she is “living proof” a Republican can win in a Democratic-leaning state with Obama on the ballot.

Collins defeated U.S. Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, with 61 percent of the vote in 2008, polling higher than Obama, who won Maine with 58 percent of the vote. While Collins was targeted by national Democrats, she had the advantage of campaigning as an incumbent senator, something Lingle will not have in Hawaii.

“Think of the number of people in Maine who voted for Barack Obama and then cut over and voted for me over Tom Allen,” Collins said. “And I think that’s what can and will happen here.”

John Hart, a communication professor at Hawaii Pacific University, said one of the reasons he believes Lingle has set an $8 million to $10 million fundraising goal is to run the media campaign necessary to help counter Obama’s pull.

“Without that, I think it’s going to be very difficult to persuade the person who is just coming out to vote for Barack Obama and whose tendency is to pull the Democratic lever to cross over in this one case — no pun intended — and vote for her,” he said.

© 2012 The Honolulu Star-Advertiser

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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