EAU CLAIRE, Wis. – Making a major detour on the campaign trail, Vice President Dick Cheney (search) on Sunday night will rally voters in Hawaii (search) where just two Republicans have ever won the state in a presidential race.
The Bush-Cheney campaign says Hawaii is within reach and that every electoral vote is worth fighting for, or in Hawaii's case, four electoral votes.
"We are competitive in the state; this is a very close race," said Cheney spokeswoman Anne Womack who announced the surprise visit Thursday night.
Gov. Linda Lingle (search), Hawaii's first Republican governor in four decades, said the Cheney appearance is a response to polls showing Bush and John Kerry neck and neck, a remarkable turn of events in a state that Democrat Al Gore won by 18 percentage points in 2000.
Democrats say Sen. John Kerry still has an edge over the president.
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 president.
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 and will stay that way, though Republicans may pick up enough seats in the House next week to make it veto proof.
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.
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.