Making a major detour on the campaign trail, Vice President Dick Cheney on Sunday night will rally voters in Hawaii, a state only two Republicans have won in a presidential race.
The Bush-Cheney campaign says Hawaii is within reach and that every electoral vote is worth fighting for — in Hawaii's case, four electoral votes.
"The polls look so good in Hawaii that we are going to drop in," Cheney told hundreds of cheering Republican volunteers Friday morning in Wisconsin. The vice president said he and wife, Lynn, have campaigned in 48 states over the past year "and yesterday we booked the 49th."
The Bush campaign is highlighting Hawaii in a move that forces Sen. John Kerry to spend money there and feeds the perception that President Bush will win. A campaign can use second-tier states like Hawaii to cover its bets in case it miscalculated elsewhere. For example, Al Gore miscalculated in West Virginia four years ago when Bush became only the fourth GOP candidate to win the state since 1932.
"We are competitive in the state; this is a very close race," said Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack.
Gov. Linda Lingle, Hawaii's first Republican governor in four decades, said the Cheney appearance is a response to polls showing Bush and Kerry neck and neck, a remarkable turn of events in a state that Democrat Al Gore won by 18 percentage points in 2000.
With the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, Hawaii has none of the economic problems that many states on the mainland have. The islands are in the midst of a construction boom. Tourism is soaring after recovering from the Sept. 11 attacks.
Ten thousand Hawaii-based U.S. troops are at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, making the military vote in a time of war a strong potential force for an incumbent Republican.
Hawaii politics are in a state of flux. Lingle cashed in on widespread voter discontent with an entrenched Democratic power structure. The state Legislature is still Democratic, although Lingle has been campaigning hard to change that, and Republicans may at least pick up enough House seats to keep Democrats from overriding her vetoes.
Hawaii also has a trend in elections that makes Democrats uneasy: a lot of cross-party voting in presidential races.
But there are also factors in Kerry's favor.
Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye cites anger over the deployment of a disproportionate number of National Guard troops from Hawaii, the state's highest-in-the-nation gasoline prices and Bush's support for gun legislation.
State widely ignored until now
During the campaign no major national political figure has set foot in the state, 4,800 miles from Washington.
Now as Election Day approaches, Gore is coming to Hawaii to appear with Kerry's daughter Alexandra on Friday for a get-out-the-vote rally.
Lingle, who was aboard Air Force One with Bush and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., the day after the final presidential debate, said she had requested that someone from the national campaign come to Hawaii but did not specifically ask for the vice president.
To Northwestern University political science professor Benjamin Page, Cheney's trip to Hawaii "seems like an odd use of his time."
Not at all, says Womack, Cheney's spokeswoman.
"Look for your opportunities and do it in a way that maintains everything" already on the schedule, says Womack.
With an itinerary that is already packed, Cheney will simply forego sleep in a hotel for a full overnight of flying to and from a state that Democrats no longer take for granted.
Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon are the only GOP presidential candidates ever to win Hawaii's vote. They, like Bush, were running for second terms.