Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono turned back a strong challenge from Republican Linda Lingle, to whom she lost the Hawaii governor's race a decade earlier, to keep the Senate seat in her party's hands. Hirono overcame criticism from Lingle that she was an ineffective legislator, an argument that worked for challengers in other states but not one where favorite son Barack Obama was on the ballot.
As in her other campaigns, Hirono made much of her early-life hardships, which she says inform her liberal politics. She was born in Fukushima, Japan, and immigrated to Hawaii just before her eighth birthday with her mother, who fled an abusive husband with alcohol and gambling problems. As a child, she shared a single bed in a boardinghouse room with her mother and older brother, and at age 10 went to work to support the family. She mastered English in public schools and became a naturalized citizen in 1959, the year that Hawaii became a state.
After graduating from the University of Hawaii, Hirono got involved in politics by working on state House campaigns. She then earned a law degree from Georgetown University and worked in the Hawaii attorney general's office. She ran for the state House in 1980 and won, holding the seat for 14 years. In 1994, she was elected to the first of two terms as lieutenant governor. Running against Lingle eight years later, her poorly organized campaign was undermined by Democratic corruption scandals and other problems, and she lost, 52 percent to 47 percent.