POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Feb 1, 2011
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka has not been actively raising money and has just $66,278 in cash for his re-election campaign in 2012.
While Akaka is not known as an aggressive fundraiser — he had $82,565 at a similar point before his 2006 campaign — the nearly empty war chest is a potential warning sign.
Former Gov. Linda Lingle has said she would consider a Senate campaign and would likely get national Republican help to match the record $6 million she raised for her re-election five years ago.
Akaka, D-Hawaii, scrambled to raise money after then-U.S. Rep. Ed Case challenged him in the 2006 primary but was able to collect more than $2 million with the help of state and national Democrats who rallied to his side.
The Cook Political Report and The Rothenberg Political Report have rated Akaka's re-election a solid or safe bet in traditionally Democratic Hawaii. But if Lingle were to enter the race, the campaign would likely be considered among the most competitive in the nation. Senate Democrats and independents now hold a 53-to-47 edge over Republicans, so the balance of power in the Senate will be at stake in 2012.
Jennifer Duffy, a senior editor at the Cook Political Report who tracks Senate and governors' races, said she would likely move the rating to a toss-up if Lingle runs.
"It seems to be Akaka's modus operandi to avoid raising money entirely until he is up for re-election," Duffy said in an e-mail. "It's not an especially wise strategy. It's part of why Case thought that beating him in a primary was even remotely possible. National Democrats, particularly his Senate colleagues, had to do a lot of the heavy lifting to help him raise money in 2006. They will certainly come to his aid again if he gets a serious challenge, but it could be a little more difficult this time because Democrats have 23 seats up and it is a presidential year."
Jesse Broder Van Dyke, an Akaka spokesman, said the senator has been raising money for others and will now focus on his re-election. The $66,278 in cash on hand was reported in the senator's year-end federal campaign-finance report.
"Senator Akaka fundraised for Colleen Hanabusa (for Congress) and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the fall and is now working on his re-election campaign," he said.
Akaka told KHON in April and the Star-Advertiser in October that he plans to run for re-election, but there is persistent talk in Washington, D.C., and in Hawaii that the 86-year-old may retire. The Cook Political Report rating, for example, has an asterisk next to Akaka's name indicating a potential retirement.
Dylan Nonaka, the executive director of the state GOP, said he personally does not think Akaka will run and believes the senator would be vulnerable against Lingle if he did.
"I don't think he'll put himself through it again," he said.
Nonaka acknowledged, however, that Akaka would likely receive extensive fundraising help from Democrats if he runs for re-election. Lingle would have to start from scratch, but she has proven fundraising ability.
Democrats, as they showed during the primary with Case in 2006, have deep affection for Akaka. The senator is considered the most likable politician in the state, a personification of the aloha spirit.
Lance Holter, the Maui Democratic chairman, said Akaka is beloved. But like many other Democrats, Holter worries about a campaign against Lingle.
"I'm sure everybody would be concerned," he said. "I imagine that she's not only going to have $4 million to $6 million, but I think this will be one of the No. 1 focused races in the nation. The GOP? All the money they can grab they're going to throw at this one."
Although senators approach fundraising differently, many build war chests well in advance of their re-election campaigns, in part to ward off potential challengers. For example, in Utah — which is similar in population to Hawaii and is as Republican as Hawaii is Democratic — U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch has $2.5 million in cash to prepare for a potential Republican primary against U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, the Salt Lake Tribune reports.