Oh, My! An Open U.S. Senate Seat

U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka

On the Feb. 24 Insights on PBS Hawaii, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye said that “If he (Daniel Akaka) should decide to run (for reelection to the United States Senate), I would support him.” But he also cautioned that his support would be minimal.

“In the last election, 2006, when Danny ran, I was able to help him in six figures. This time I doubt that I could do that.” Inouye cautioned that as a member of the Democratic leadership in the Senate, he would be expected to help all Democrats up for re-election, “not just one.”

Inouye also noted that a successful 2012 Hawaii Senate race would require $3 million, that that sum should have been raised by now, but that Akaka had less than $100,000 in his campaign till.

A friend e-mailed me early last week: “Looks like Inouye has thrown Danny Akaka under the bus.”

A brutal and distasteful way of putting it, but accurate nonetheless. Less than a week after Inouye’s comments were made, the 86-year-old Akaka announced that he would not seek reelection after his term expires in 2012.

U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye

Akaka’s planned departure will create that rarest of Hawaii political opportunities: the first open Senate seat since 1976. In that year, Republican incumbent Sen. Hiram Fong decided not to seek re-election. Two congressional Democrats, Patsy Mink and Spark Matsunaga, battled for the Democratic nomination. Sparky won, then went on to defeat the former Republican Gov. Bill Quinn and join Dan Inouye in the Senate.

Matsunaga would win two more Senate contests, but he died soon after his 1988 re-election. Then Gov. John Waihee appointed Congressman Akaka to serve until the 1990 election. In that year, Akaka won a term of his own, defeating Republican Congresswoman Pat Saiki.

A host of politicians with senatorial ambitions have come and gone waiting for one of the Democratic Dannys to call it a career. But next year’s open U.S. Senate seat will still draw a crowd.

Former Gov. Linda Lingle will be the likely Republican candidate. Lingle will have bushels of campaign dollars with which to run, approval ratings in the mid-40s the last I saw, and a Hawaii Democratic Party capable self-immolation in its 2012 senatorial primary. Her downside? Say “Furlough Fridays” four times, then repeat.

The list of possible Democrats seeking the U.S. Senate seat is much longer. The two sitting Democratic U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa head the list. Hirono has been heard to say she will run. Hanabusa has yet to indicate any wish to run so soon after winning her first term in the House.

Ed Case

Ed Case sought unsuccessfully to unseat Akaka in 2006, and a year ago Case lost a bid for the vacant 1st District congressional seat. He recently e-mailed supporters, praising Akaka’s service and expressing his continued interest in serving in the U.S. Senate.

Then there’s former Mayor Mufi Hannemann. His Potomac fever has waned little since he first set foot in Washington more than 30 years ago. Last year he suffered a tough loss in his bid for governor, but Hannemann continues to enjoy strong ties to both labor and business leaders – strong enough to mount a serious senatorial campaign.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz also has been mentioned as a possible candidate. Schatz’s advantage is that he could run for the U.S. Senate without giving up his state office. And, given the nonexistent powers of the lieutenant governor’s office, he could hardly be criticized for dereliction of duty.

During the Insights program, Inouye mentioned Tammy Duckworth, the Hawaii-born, McKinley High School- and University of Hawaii-educated Veterans Affairs official as a possible Senate candidate. She is currently an Illinois resident and ran for Congress there just two years ago.

Duckworth seems like a stretch to me. But then, if Inouye can throw a politician under a bus, I suppose he can put one on the bus as well.

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