HONOLULU - U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle aren't letting up in their criticisms of one another as they press toward the homestretch in their race for U.S. Senate.
Both contenders were on the attack Monday night in their final debate, just before early voting begins statewide today.
Hirono criticized Lingle as a handpicked Republican who would undercut Hawaii's values in Washington and dampen the effectiveness of U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, Hawaii's other senator.
Lingle called Hirono ineffective as a lawmaker, saying she doesn't have original ideas and doesn't understand national issues well enough to make decisions as a senator.
In their final face-to-face showdown before the Nov. 6 election, the candidates spent a significant amount of time during a sometimes contentious exchange talking about Lingle's ties to Republicans- from the party itself to its personalities from Mitt Romney to Sarah Palin.
Lingle said Hirono, a Democrat, can't stand on her own.
"Sending my opponent to the United States Senate is just too risky," Lingle said. "She has no history of leadership. She hasn't gotten anything done, and she doesn't play well with others."
Hirono said she'd be a lawmaker who works with her head and her heart.
"Are you going to vote for someone who is tied to the national Republican agenda or are you going to vote for a senator who shares your priorities right here at home?" Hirono said.
Hirono pressed Lingle to answer for a comment 10 years ago in which Lingle said former President George W. Bush was the nation's "greatest" president. Lingle responded by saying she misspoke, though she thought Bush did a good job of bringing country together after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Hirono pounced on the response.
"You are a cheerleader for George Bush, you continue to be," Hirono said. "You are a supporter and believer in the McCain-Palin ticket as you went out and campaigned for them, and you are certainly supporting Mitt Romney to become president, calling him a better president, likely, than President Obama."
Lingle fought back at Hirono's strategy, which took advantage of widespread support for Democrats in Hawaii.
"I think using this as one of your two questions is so disrespectful to the voters of Hawaii when they're facing such really challenging issues of trying to make a good living," Lingle said. "I'm hopeful that we can talk about the serious issues that people care about."
During an exchange on budget cuts, Hirono declined twice to name areas she would cut spending, labeling expirations on tax cuts as cuts rather than as actions that would raise revenues. Asked a third time, Hirono said she would go after fraud and waste in Medicare to save $700 billion.
Lingle said she would cut foreign aid to countries that don't deserve it.