Saying Aloha To The Hawaii Senate Race
By Sean Sullivan March 17, 2011 National Journal
As observers in the Aloha State await announcements from several high profile politicians believed to be mulling a bid for the seat being vacated by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), one potential candidate is already taking the next step toward exploring a run.
State Senate Vice President Donna Mercado Kim (D) is planning to form an exploratory committee in the hopes of financing a poll, as first reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser earlier this week.
"I've had my eye on the Senate seat," Kim told Hotline On Call on Wednesday. "I felt that should Sen. Akaka step down, that I would be interested in pursuing that. So I've been thinking about it for a year or two."
The Star-Advertiser reports Kim "is known for her investigations of state departments and agencies."
She said she participated in a program that allowed her to shadow Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) a couple of years ago, which, in part sparked her interest in going to Washington.
Kim told Hotline On Call she's friends with a some of the bigger name candidates who remain possibilities for the race including Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D), with whom she served in the state Senate, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann (D), who is the godfather of Kim's son and a high school friend.
While she is not a household name, Kim's interest in the race illustrates how a Democratic primary that already promises to be crowded could grow, in time, to become even more jam-packed.
Expect Divisive Democratic Primary In Hawaii
By Sean Sullivan March 3, 2011 National Journal
During the 2010 midterms, Republicans dealt with a handful of divisive primaries where Republican voters split support between the establishment favorites running against more-ideologically oriented outsiders.
But with Sen. Daniel Akaka's (D-Hawaii) retirement announcement creating a Senate opening in Hawaii for the first time in over 20 years, Democrats could well be facing a messy primary of their own. In fact, Democrats have had a history of nasty spats in two recent Aloha State primaries - suggesting another colorful contest may well ensure in 2012.
The 2010 Democratic gubernatorial primary pitted former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann against longtime Rep. Neil Abercrombie. Hannemann ran to the more liberal Abercrombie's right in a race that remained competitive throughout the summer. But the campaign took a heated turn toward the end, and negative campaigning, mostly from Hannemann, swung a lot of votes in favor of Abercrombie, who eventually pulled away, winning by over 20 points.
A Hannemann mailer that received a lot of attention late in the race was denounced by critics for having racial undertones, and even prompted criticism from Sen. Daniel Inouye (D). Abercrombie also went on offense, hitting Hannemann with a negative radio ad. Inouye later interjected again, urging both candidates to keep it cordial and focus on policy differences.
In 2006, Akaka faced then-Rep. Ed Case in a combative Democratic primary. The race became a battle between Case's argument for a transition to a new generation of representation and the Democratic establishment in the state, who backed Akaka. Inouye provided substantial financial support to help Akaka fend off Case in a race the incumbent won by just over 9 points.
Abercrombie's resounding victory in the 2010 gubernatorial primary served as a sign that Democratic voters in the state have a very small appetite for attacks perceived as nasty or overly negative. Democratic candidates who enter the race to replace Akaka will have to be mindful of how their offensive game is perceived, lest they suffer the same fate as the former Honolulu mayor.
And the Case-Akaka race illustrated the deep divide between the state's establishment class -- in which that seniority is held in high regard -- and a newer generation of politicians.
This cycle, it's likely that a field with several competitive candidates -- including both Case and Hannemann, both more moderate Democrats -- could emerge.
Hannemann released a statement Wednesday saying, "there will be plenty of time to discuss my own personal plan," while Case said he remains "interested in serving Hawai'i in the U. S. Senate."
Democrats are also bullish on Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and the state's two Democratic Reps., Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa.
It's also worth noting that the Democrats in this group have often found themselves pitted against one another in elections over the past decade. Case and Hanabusa both competed in a special election for Abercrombie's House seat in 2010, and they split the vote, allowing Republican Charles Djou to win the seat, before Hanabusa put it back in Democratic hands in November. Hirono defeated both Hanabusa and Schatz in a 2006 House primary.
No matter who wins the Democratic nomination, the party should be favored to hold the seat in the general election, though Republicans are bullish on making it competitive if former governor Linda Lingle or Djou runs. But with President Obama at the top of the ticket --- and his home state of Hawaii giving him his largest margin of victory of any state in 2008 -- it will be a tough race for any Republican, no matter their profile.
The GOP is pinning its hopes on Lingle, who has a proven ability to fundraise and high name identification across the state. Lingle said in November she will take six months before deciding on a bid.
Republicans do not expect Lingle's time frame to necessarily change as a result of Akaka's announcement, but they view his retirement as welcome news. If Lingle does not run, former Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona, who impressed many Republicans as the party's nominee in the 2010 gubernatorial race and Djou are the next highest-profile names on the GOP bench.