Linda Lingle, a former two-term governor of Hawaii, announced Tuesday that she is entering the state's Senate race, giving Republicans hope of capturing the seat being vacated by Democrat Daniel Akaka, who is retiring.
Lingle, 58, sought to distance herself from GOP leaders in Washington and stressed that she would be an independent voice for Hawaii if elected.
"I say I want to be very clear on this point. I don't work for Mitch McConnell. I don't work for President Obama. I work for the people of Hawaii," she told The Associated Press.
Lingle stressed that one of her strengths is getting people to work together regardless of party affiliation, a concept that she believes is in short supply in Washington.
She criticized the national health care overhaul that Democrats passed but stopped short of calling for its repeal, noting that she didn't know enough about it to say which provisions should be overturned. In making her announcement, she didn't attack President Barack Obama, who was born in the state, and said she hopes to win over his supporters.
"So what I tell people is that if you want to support President Obama, that's fine, but also support me, because for Hawaii's interest, we're a small state and we're far away from the capital, we need to have a foot in both camps. If the Republicans are able to gain control, which some are predicting, we want to have someone who is in that majority caucus," she said.
Lingle announced her candidacy on KSSK radio in the morning and was scheduled to speak later at a meeting of sales and marketing executives in Honolulu.
Lingle was the state's first female governor and served from 2002-2010. She won with about 62 percent of the vote in her second race. Her victories indicated she can appeal to moderate Democrats, which could be critical in an election cycle that features Obama at the top of the Democratic ticket.
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee noted that she nominated Sarah Palin for vice president at the GOP's national convention in 2008, and called Palin a "true leader."
Lingle praised Akaka, as embodying "the spirit of aloha in Washington, D.C." and serving the state for 34 years.
A spokesman for Akaka said the 86-year-old Democratic senator _ the third oldest member of the Senate _ wouldn't comment on Lingle's announcement or the race in general. Hawaii's other senator, Daniel Inouye, said only that "this election cycle should be most interesting and very active."
A Republican lawyer and former state lawmaker, John Carroll, is also seeking to be the GOP's candidate in the race to replace Akaka.
Carroll criticized Lingle for supporting Akaka's bill to grant Native Hawaiians the right to form their own government and for failing to change federal shipping laws blamed for Hawaii's high cost of living. He predicted the Republican primary would be a debate over the core beliefs of the party.
U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former Rep. Ed Case are seeking the Democratic nomination. Case said that Lingle would get involved in partisan politics in Washington, accusing her of abandoning Hawaii during crucial times as governor to campaign for mainland Republicans.
Hirono narrowly defeated Case in the Democratic primary for the 2002 governor's race, but she later lost to Lingle.
Hirono's campaign also drew attention to Lingle's introduction of Palin, saying Republicans have been eager to move her to center stage since 2008.
Besides serving as governor, Lingle also served two terms as the mayor of Maui.
The former adjutant general of the Hawaii National Guard, Maj. Gen. Robert Lee, will serve as Lingle's campaign manager.
GOP officials in Washington believe that Lingle's entry into the race will also require the Democratic Party to invest in the race, which could leave less money available for races in swing states such as Missouri and Ohio.
Associated Press writer Kevin Freking contributed to this report from Washington.