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Monday, September 01, 2014         

ON POLITICS


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Democrats wonder who will succeed Akaka, if not Lingle

By Richard Borreca

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Remember last year's constant ads, the phone calls, the glossy fliers in the mail? That was probably just a dress rehearsal.

Get ready for political 2012 to be 2010 on steroids.

Hawaii again appears destined to be a state in play and all the national folks have already learned how easy it is to catch the red-eye into Honolulu International.

"We learned from experience that the funds from offshore come in the hundreds of thousands and basically no one can keep track who is doing what to whom," says Dante Carpenter, Hawaii Democratic Party chairman.

The reason Hawaii will be in play is that Hawaii could end 2012 with a Republican U.S. senator, the first since 1977, when Hiram Fong represented Hawaii. All the major-league Democrats are still having nightmares after GOP U.S. Rep. Charles Djou showed that Hawaii's status as a blue state was not a sure thing.

The reason for the speculation is the curious case of Hawaii's junior Sen. Daniel Akaka. If ever a politician could be beloved, it would be Akaka.

This man is more likely to hug you than shake your hand. If age has slowed his step, it has not dimmed his capacity to genuinely inquire about your family's health and recall the last time he saw them.

As well liked as Akaka may be, it is not an affection that shows up in his campaign checking account, which now holds about $66,000. Also, as much as someone can talk about age not mattering, Akaka will be 88 in the next election cycle.

Last week, I and KHON2 TV reporter Gina Mangieri asked U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye about Akaka's campaign during the PBS public affairs broadcast, "Insights." Inouye himself volunteered that while he is a strong supporter of Akaka, he won't be able to help him raise as much money next year because of other Senate and political duties. Also, he did his own arithmetic and said it is normal for a competitive Senate race to be fully funded a year before the election.

Akaka is funded to run for the state Senate, not the U.S. Senate.

"Sen. Akaka told me personally he is running for re-election, and until I hear otherwise, that's my take on it," Carpenter says when asked.

Someone who understands "fully funded" is former Gov. Linda Lingle, who set a campaign fundraising record in 2006 when she raised more than $6 million in a re-election cakewalk. That wasn't a one-time record; Republican Lingle already owned the statewide fundraising record with $5.4 million raised in her 2002 election.

Curiously, Akaka's campaign has not yet fired back. There has been no on-the-record comment about Inouye. No one is saying that the Akaka campaign is moving forward.

When asked about successors last week, Inouye touched on U.S. Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie Hirono, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Mayor Mufi Hannemann. And then he mentioned Veterans Affairs Department Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth, not exactly someone on the local political watch list.

"She's a fellow graduate of McKinley, graduate of the University of Hawaii, so she has legitimate footprints in Hawaii," Inouye said.

Even a frail Akaka is the Democrats' strongest candidate against a rested and ready Lingle, who is already making moves to the mainstream center of Hawaii politics.

If it is not going to be Akaka, the Democrats will want to appoint a new senator strong enough to beat Lingle next year. Today, a year away from the race, that does not look like a position of strength.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com






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