HONOLULU - Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle is opening the final push in her race for a U.S. Senate seat by tying her opponent, Mazie Hirono, to a Congress that has abysmal approval ratings.
Lingle said Sunday that Hirono wants to make the election about Hawaii's pride in President Barack Obama and her tough childhood, rather than about what's best for Hawaii's future.
Lingle told reporters the day after easily winning her Republican primary that Hirono is an example of why just 12 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing. Lingle says Hirono has missed many votes and hasn't had to make any tough decisions.
Lingle was referring to a poll by CBS News and The New York Times last month that showed Congress with a 79 percent disapproval score. The House and the Senate are on a five-week break, having set record lows for production.
"My opponent is a part of the problem," Lingle said. "She has been and continues to be a rubber stamp for a national agenda that takes positions that is not Hawaii's best interest."
Hirono beat former U.S. Rep. Ed Case in the Democratic primary. She says Lingle is trying to remake her image after eight years as governor and is a key part of Republican desires to win control of the U.S. Senate.
Lingle said Sunday that she's agreed to appear in 18 debates, including forums on every major Hawaiian island and on each major TV network statewide.
Hirono said in a statement that she's surprised to hear that Lingle wants 18 opportunities to defend Republican presidential contender Mitt Romney and his running mate Paul Ryan, as well as her record as governor.
"I'm confident that between my debate plans and Linda Lingle's, the people of Hawaii can look forward to plenty of them," Hirono said.
Hirono is certain to bore into Lingle on issues from her time as governor including a mishandled plan to establish an interisland ferry system and a contentious plan to close a budget gap with teacher furloughs.
Lingle's response to both issues is that Hirono didn't do anything at the time to weigh in on either problem or to offer solutions.
"It's easy to stand back and to Monday morning quarterback when you have never yourself been in a position of leadership or had to make a tough decision. This is a good example of that," Lingle said. "Again, she's just been absent for the people of Hawaii when we were facing our most difficult issues."
While Lingle is well-known to Hawaii voters after beating Hirono in 2002 to become governor and serving through 2010, she faces a significant hurdle in a clearly blue state with Obama, who was born in Honolulu, running at the top of the ticket. In 2008, Obama picked up more than 70 percent of Hawaii's vote.
Lingle said she supports Romney but won't try to tell undecided Hawaii voters who to elect president.
And she doesn't see herself as significantly behind in the race, which she compared to a swimming race that's entered the final turn with both swimmers tied.
"I'm going to touch the wall first," Lingle told The Associated Press.