POSTED: 1:15 a.m. HST, May 20, 2012
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye says he will not formally endorse a candidate in the U.S. Senate race next year until after the primary election, but he is telling people who ask him that he prefers U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono to former U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
The senior senator said last spring after U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka announced he would not run for another term that he would not endorse in the primary. But over the past few months Inouye has made several positive comments about Hirono and he and Akaka attended a labor fundraiser for her campaign in Washington, D.C.
"My thinking has not really changed. But, after all, I'm just like anyone else. I'm actively involved in government affairs. I'm a voter. And I have my likes and dislikes. And for me to continually say, ‘I have nothing to add. I have nothing to add,' makes me look ridiculous and foolish," Inouye said by telephone Wednesday from Washington.
"And so when people ask me, I say, ‘Well I've been Mazie's friend for a long time and I've watched her work and I like the way she does things.'"
Asked whether he considers that an endorsement, he said: "Well, if you want to consider that, that's fine, because obviously if I'm going to say those things about her when I go to the polls I'm going to vote for her."
Case has said he apologized to Inouye in the spring for any ill will that might remain from his unsuccessful primary challenge against Akaka in 2006. Inouye and other establishment Democrats helped Akaka with fundraising and endorsements to fend off the insurgency.
But Inouye said he remains disappointed. The senator says he has not received a satisfactory explanation from Case.
"What I am going to do? Am I going to just sit around and do nothing? I was hurt," he said of his reaction to Case's challenge to Akaka.
"He hasn't given me any explanation, and if that's the way he's going to deal with me, I don't want to deal with a person like that."
Case, asked about Inouye in September, said: "Senator Inouye told me and others and has said publicly a number of times that he is not going to endorse in the primary. And I continue to take him at his word.
"I also enjoyed a very good working relationship with him and the other members of the delegation throughout my time in Congress."
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, an Akaka spokesman, said the senator has not made an endorsement but has been supportive of Hirono's campaign. "Senator Akaka has a good working relationship with Congresswoman Hirono and has attended fundraisers for her and other national candidates," he said. "Senator Akaka is not endorsing anyone in the primary and is looking forward to completing his term and seeing who the people of Hawaii select to succeed him."
Prominent politicians often walk a fine line when it comes to endorsing in primaries since, for the most part, neutrality is the standard for political parties in contested primaries.
Inouye favored Case in his unsuccessful primary for governor against Hirono in 2002 but did not actually endorse him. Inouye openly backed Akaka over Case in the Senate primary in 2006 and U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa over Case in a special election for Congress last year.
Inouye said he thinks the Hawaii Senate race will receive national attention next year because the political balance of the Senate may be at stake. If Democrats lose the Senate, Inouye would lose his chairmanship of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee and his title as Senate president pro tempore.
"I think it will because the margin is narrow and if the Senate goes the other way, we might have additional problems," he said.