WASHINGTON — Alaska Republican Rep. Don Young's support for a Democrat running for U.S. Senate in Hawaii is under attack from the Republican in the race, former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, whose campaign brought up Young's past ethics issues and called him one of the House's "most controversial members."
Lingle was reacting to a new campaign ad in which Young appears with Hawaii Rep. Mazie Hirono, who is running in the Democratic primary for the chance to challenge Lingle for the open Senate seat. Young tells Hirono in the advertisement that "Hawaii needs you."
"Here's what's important, Hawaii," Young says in the ad. "If you're looking for a United States senator who doesn't just talk about bipartisanship but actually knows how to work with both Republicans and Democrats to get things done, Mazie Hirono will be that senator."
Young's office responded Wednesday to Lingle's criticism by saying Young is only endorsing Hirono to win the primary election -- not to defeat the Republican Lingle in the November general election.
But Lingle campaign manager Bob Lee said in an interview that Young made no such distinction in the ad and sounded as if he wanted Hirono to be Hawaii's next senator.
Lee put out a statement to Hawaii media Tuesday night criticizing Hirono's ad featuring the Alaska congressman.
"It should be troubling to the people of Hawaii that Mazie Hirono's first attempt to convey any example of bipartisanship is a video advertisement with one of the House of Representatives' most controversial members, who even Mazie's fellow Democrats have criticized on a range of ethics and spending issues," the statement said.
Young was under investigation by the FBI starting in at least 2006 for connections to corrupt oil field contractor Bill Allen and the way federal money was steered to a Florida interchange sought by a Young campaign contributor. The FBI closed the case in 2010 with a memo saying "there was ultimately not evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to ultimately convict Congressman Young."
Hawaii is a Democratic state. But the Republicans hope to capture the state's open U.S. Senate seat as part of an effort to take control of the Senate, which the Democrats now control with 53 of the 100 seats. Hirono faces former Congressman Ed Case in the August Democratic primary, with the winner taking on Lingle in November.
The seat has been held since 1990 by Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, who decided not to seek re-election.
Young's office released a written statement Wednesday when asked about Lingle's criticism.
"First and foremost, the endorsement of Rep. Hirono was for just the primary election. Congressman Young has not made an endorsement in the general election and has no plans to do so," it said.
"Having worked together on several issues important to both Alaska and Hawaii, Congressman Young and Congresswoman Hirono have developed a close personal friendship and working relationship. ... At the end of the day, Rep. Young surveyed the candidates running in Rep. Hirono's primary and decided to endorse her because he believes she will be best for Alaska," the Young statement said.
Young has been an intense GOP partisan but also works with Democrats at times, particularly on getting federal money for Alaska. He and Hirono talk in her campaign ad about working together to preserve education programs for Native Alaskans and Hawaiians.
"While Mazie and I don't see eye to eye on everything, we've done something too many people in Washington refuse to cross the aisle and do. We've worked together," Young says in the ad.
The ad plays up Young's cantankerous side, with Hirono playfully stopping him when he starts taking potshots at Nancy Pelosi, the House Democratic minority leader from California. "Let me tell you that Nancy Pelosi is one stubborn ..." he says before she cuts him off.
"Don, what have I told you?" she asks.
The ad ends with Young giving her a side-hug and saying, "Hawaii needs you."
There's a tradition of bipartisan camaraderie between politicians from Alaska and Hawaii, the only states that are geographically disconnected from the rest of the nation and the last two states admitted to the union. Then-Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens and Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye called each other "brother" and worked together on the Senate Appropriations Committee to steer federal money to their states.
But the Lingle camp said it's not a good idea for Hirono to be touting an association with Young.
"This is not the leadership Hawaii needs," Lingle's campaign said.