By Malia Mattoch, Reuters
HONOLULU – Voters in Hawaii went to the polls on Saturday in a primary expected to set up Republicans for a rare chance to win a U.S. Senate seat in the heavily Democratic state for the first time since 1970.
A victory by former governor Linda Lingle, who has an early edge in fundraising, in President Barack Obama’s home state could also help Republicans take control of the U.S. Senate as they battle for a net gain of four seats.
While analysts expect Lingle to easily win her Republican primary contest, U.S. Representative Mazie Hirono and former Congressman Ed Case are locked in what is seen as a closer contest on the Democratic side to contest the Senate seat.
The seat is being vacated by Senator Daniel Akaka, a Democrat who at age 86 is retiring after 22 years in the Senate.
Hawaii has never voted out a sitting U.S. Senator, so the retirement of Akaka creates a rare political vacuum in the state that Lingle and the GOP are hoping to exploit. The last time Republicans won a U.S. Senate contest was in 1970, when then-Senator Hiram Fong won re-election.
Governor Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, on Saturday ordered that voting on the Big Island of Hawaii be allowed to continue for an hour and a half past the original closing time of 6 p.m., because he said a number of polling stations on that island had opened later than scheduled.
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