Updated at 1:00 p.m.

Republicans have landed their top recruit in the open Hawaii Senate race, with former governor Linda Lingle entering the race and giving the GOP a chance to win in a heavily Democratic state.

Lingle announced her intentions during an interview with KSSK-AM radio shortly before 1 p.m. eastern time.

Lingle, a two-term governor who left office after the 2010 election, immediately becomes the frontrunner for the GOP nomination by virtue of her fundraising ability and political experience.

But she left office with so-so personal approval numbers and appears to enter the race with some work to do in repairing her political brand. Complicating matters is the fact that, for the first time, she will be on the statewide ballot with President Obama, whose roots in the state should make things more difficult for any Republican downballot next year. Obama took 72 percent of the vote in Hawaii in 2008.

On the Democratic side, Rep. Mazie Hirono has secured much of the establishment support, but former congressman Ed Case stands between her and the general election.

Lingle became Hawaii’s first elected female governor when she was first elected in 2002. She easily won reelection in 2006 with 63 percent of the vote, in part no doubt due to an uninspiring Democratic challenger. But she was broadly popular during much of her tenure.

Democrats have signaled that they will make Lingle’s introduction of Sarah Palin at the 2008 Republican National Convention a major issue in the campaign.

“Today marks Linda Lingle’s biggest announcement since she nominated Sarah Palin for vice president, an event that typified Lingle’s partisan Republican approach to governing,” said a spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Matt Canter.

A Hawaii Poll released in May showed Hirono leading Lingle by 22 points, while Case led by 18.

Case’s campaign released a more recent poll that showed him leading Lingle by 10 points, while Hirono trailed her by five. The poll earned Case an unusual rebuke from the national Democratic Party, which doubted its results.

Lingle will speak at a lunch in Hono­lulu at 6 p.m. eastern time, according to the Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser.

The seat became open when Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) announced he would not seek reelection.

Republicans need to take three or four Democratic seats to win back the majority in the Senate. Hawaii isn’t considered one of their top pickups, so if they win here, it will likely be part of a big GOP wave.