Former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle (R), one of the Republican Party’s most-celebrated Senate recruits, is casting herself as she has for her political career — as a moderate outsider not beholden to her party’s more conservative whims.
That’s all well and good when you’re thousands of miles from the mainland. But Lingle is in D.C. this week — and has quickly put herself in the middle of the toughest issue for moderate Republicans: the fight over access to contraception.
On Tuesday evening, Lingle is scheduled to attend a fundraiser with Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), author of last week’s amendment to the transportation bill that would have allowed employers to deny coverage on moral grounds.
Blunt’s amendment has caused problems for some moderate Republicans. Mitt Romney landed himself squarely in both Democratic and conservative crosshairs when he fumbled his support for the amendment. Though the amendment won over only three Senate Democrats, almost the entire Senate GOP caucus voted for it — a notable exception was retiring Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME). Another moderate female Republican, Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), is already expressing public regrets for her vote, saying it alienated women in her state.
Lingle can’t afford to be cast as ultra-conservative if she wants to stage an upset in President Obama’s home state this November (she has taken socially conservative positions in the past, most notably when she vetoed a same-sex civil-union bill as governor).
She hasn’t gone on the record on the Blunt amendment itself, but by raising dough with Blunt, she’s given her opponents a chance to tie her to it anyway. That began Tuesday afternoon.
“Linda Lingle’s days of pretending to be a moderate are over,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement. “She may still be dodging questions about whether she supports right-wing Sen. Blunt’s infamous proposal to give your boss control of your health-care coverage, but she’s telling Hawai’i everything they need to know by highlighting Blunt’s support for her campaign at a Washington D.C. fundraiser.”
Democrats went a step further, saying Lingle is giving “tacit support” to Blunt by appearing at a fundraiser with him.
“After her speech nominating Sarah Palin as vice president in 2008, Lingle has already proven to be a loyal partisan soldier for Mitch McConnell and the far right wing,” said DSCC spokesperson Matt Canter, “fighting President Obama and supporting the extreme Republican social agenda that targets women.”
The timing is not great for Lingle — she’s going to be standing next to Blunt just as female Democratic senators and candidates gear up for a campaign swing that will celebrate the defeat of the Blunt amendment and seek to rally women to the Democratic Party.
Lingle’s campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.