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U.S. Elections 2002 Jewish Woman Says Aloha to Rival, and Hello to the Governor’s Mansion

November 7, 2002
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A Republican Jewish woman is probably looking to say thank you — or “mahalo” – – to the national Jewish political community for its support.

Linda Lingle, 49, won the Hawaii governor’s race Tuesday, beating the state’s Democratic lieutenant governor, Mazie Hirono.

Lingle was one of two Jewish governors elected Tuesday: The former mayor of Philadelphia, Ed Rendell, beat state Attorney General Mike Fisher to become Pennsylvania’s next governor.

When Lingle came to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee annual policy conference in April, she mused about her Jewish support around the country.

She met a number of people at the conference who introduced her around and gave her advice. On a previous trip to New York, AIPAC and Chabad helped Lingle campaign, she said.

“My race has sort of been adopted,” she told JTA at the time. “There is pride in having me as a Jewish candidate.”

Lingle, Hawaii’s first Republican governor in 40 years, found herself attracting national attention, as Jewish, Republican and women’s groups all lent their support for her run.

“She was committed to reaching out to Jewish communities across the country,” said Matthew Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

The RJC leadership raised money for her and the group’s political action committee gave her $6,000, Brooks said.

The Jewish vote could not have been a huge factor in the race, as there are only an estimated 10,000 Jews in Hawaii out of a total population of more than 1.2 million people.

Moreover, Hawaii’s Jewish community, like the general Jewish population, tends to vote Democratic.

But Lingle, a moderate Republican who is pro-choice and against school prayer, thinks she will relate well to the Jewish community and to a lot of Democrats.

“I can’t think of anything we’d be differing on,” she said.

Lingle says her Jewish heritage has aided her political career in Hawaii because it has given her a better understanding of diversity, helping her connect with citizens of different religious and ethnic backgrounds.

When she was a young girl in a St. Louis Sunday school, Lingle gave a dime every week to plant trees in Israel. She still remembers how that experience taught her about a safe haven where Jews could go.

“I thought, ‘We have to help them,’ ” she said.

Lingle likes to tell the story because it reflects both her Jewish background and her emphasis on helping people.

Growing up in Missouri and California, Lingle’s friends were all Jewish. It was only when she went to college that she took a course on world religions and learned about other beliefs.

Lingle is a member of a Jewish congregation on the island of Maui and attends Lubavitch services in Honolulu on the island of Oahu.

There also are a Reform synagogue and a Conservative synagogue in Honolulu, and Lingle says she gets support from all the congregations.

Lingle also received anti-Semitic calls and notes on a smaller scale during her 1998 campaign for governor, a campaign spokesman said.

Lingle, who narrowly lost the 1998 race, was chairman of the Hawaii Republican Party and plans to use her connections to the national party — especially valuable since the Republicans’ strong showing on Tuesday — to help Hawaii.

Along with such hot-button issues as education and the economy, homeland security and the war on terror loom big for Hawaiian voters because there are many military installations in Hawaii, and a large part of the population works for the military.

In Hawaii, which suffered the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, people have a lot of sympathy for Israel’s war against Arab terrorism, she believes.

American support for Israel is very important as Israel fights for its survival, Lingle said.

Lingle wants the United States to provide enough military aid to Israel to “ensure that it is superior to any possible combination of enemies,” and says that Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital.

“I believe the essential goal of U.S. policy in the Middle East should be the preservation of a strong, safe and secure Israel,” she said.

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