U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye said he would continue to support U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka if Akaka runs for re-election in 2012, but Inouye warned that he may not be able to help Akaka as much as he has in the past with fundraising and questioned his fellow Democrat’s fundraising pace.
In an interview Thursday night on Insights on PBS Hawaii, Inouye said any doubts about Akaka’s age should apply to him as well, since they both are 86-years-old. He also defended Akaka’s record and understated style. But he said that circumstances have changed since he and other Democrats rallied to Akaka’s side when he was challenged in the primary by former congressman Ed Case in 2006.
"As to his service to our nation, he’s done well. I think the record shows that. There are some who are flamboyant, some who are not. Some who are very vocal, and some who are not," Inouye said. "The fact that one is flamboyant doesn’t mean that he is successful. The fact that someone is quiet and studious doesn’t mean he’s a weakling or he doesn’t know what he’s doing. Because, when I first got to the Senate, most of the very powerful senators hardly said a word. Have you ever heard of a speech by (legendary Georgia Sen.) Richard Russell?
"So, secondly, I have supported him all along and if he should decide to run I will support him. But now circumstances have changed. The last election I was able to concentrate fully on Senator Akaka. But now I’m president pro tem. I’m chairman of the appropriations committee and I’m a member of the leadership council.
"And, as such, they expect me as one of the leaders of the Senate to help all Democrats, not just one. And I’ve been doing that, even during my own re-election time."
Inouye said he gave more than six figures to Akaka’s campaign in 2006 and he doubted whether he could match that again for 2012. Inouye gave $300,000 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee to help Akaka against Case and also steered other donors toward his colleague. He noted Akaka’s slow fundraising pace for his reelection — he had just $66,278 in cash on hand at the end of the year — and predicted he would need at least $3 million to be competitive.
A spokesman for Akaka was not immediately available to comment. Akaka has said that he plans to run for re-election.
Several Democrats, both nationally and in Hawaii, have been raising doubts about whether Akaka will — or should — run for another six-year term.
Linda Estes, a former Kauai Democratic leader, wrote in a letter to the Star-Advertiser that Akaka should retire. She said he has served Hawaii with distinction and should retire with honor. She also said he should announce soon so other Democrats would have time to organize their campaigns.
"I believe that I’m saying what a number of people are thinking," Estes said today.
Dante Carpenter, the Democratic Party of Hawaii chairman, said the party is operating under the assumption Akaka is running. "My understanding from conversations from Senator Akaka himself is that he’s running for re-election and has every intention to do that," he said. "And, until I hear otherwise, that’s what my understanding is going forward."
Carpenter and other Democrats have expressed concern about a potential challenge from former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican with fundraising prowess. Lingle has said she would decide by this summer whether to run for Senate.
Inouye, in his interview on PBS Hawaii, listed several potential successors if Akaka should retire. He named U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, Gov. Neil Abercrombie, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. Pressed further, he also mentioned Case and Tammy Duckworth, the McKinley High School graduate and Iraq war veteran who works for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
But Inouye said the party should try to narrow the choices. "Our problem, I think, at this juncture is to try to keep it down to a workable number," he said. "Can you imagine if all six of them or seven of them ran? They’d kill each other."