Former Congressman Ed Case announced yesterday that he will run in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate next year, vowing to change a political culture in Washington, D.C., he believes is too partisan.
The moderate Democrat, who jeopardized his political career with an unsuccessful primary campaign against U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2006, now wants to replace Akaka in the Senate.
Akaka, 86, said in March that he will not seek another term next year. Case, the first candidate to formally announce a campaign, said he hopes his early start will give him time to raise sufficient money and build a statewide organization for what could be a race with national implications.
"In terms of the issues, it really is the culture of Washington," Case said yesterday. "I think we’ve seen in spades over the last couple of weeks what’s wrong. Clearly, Washington is stuck in an excess of politics and is not focused on solving problems and getting the results, which is what people want, whether they live in Hawaii or Idaho or Georgia."
Case, 58, said his campaign would concentrate on job creation, economic recovery and containing the federal budget deficit.
"I think I’m well suited to contribute, with other members of the U.S. Senate, to really find a better way of governing," said Case, who was part of the moderate Blue Dog coalition when he served for four years in the U.S. House. "And I think that the results of the election across the country are going to show that. I think you’re going to see this desire coming out of the voters in every state where there’s a Senate election."
Several other Democrats have been privately evaluating a Senate campaign, including U.S. Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann.
Hirono said yesterday that she is considering a campaign.
"Many people have encouraged me to look at the race for U.S. Senate. I’m humbled by this encouragement and I am taking a careful look at it," she said in an email.
Hannemann said he is seriously considering a run.
"I am in interested in the Senate race," he said. "It is very much on my radar screen."
Former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, has said she will decide by this summer whether to run.
Public and private polling has shown that Case could potentially be the strongest Democrat, but several Democrats have also polled well against Lingle.
Local Democratic strategists caution, however, that the polls are early and that Lingle would likely be a formidable candidate. Lingle, who raised a record $6 million for her re-election campaign in 2006, would probably match that in a Senate race. The former governor, unlike any of the potential Democratic contenders, has also won two statewide campaigns.
The Democratic nominee will likely be the favorite in traditionally blue Hawaii, where Republicans have not held a Senate seat since 1977. Hawaii-born President Barack Obama will also likely help all local Democrats on the ballot because, win or lose on the mainland, the president is expected to do well in the islands.
Democrats anticipate a competitive primary, but party leaders want to prevent the kind of nastiness that could hobble their nominee.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the state’s leading Democrat and the Senate president pro tempore, plans to stay neutral in the primary, according to his staff.
The senior senator’s relationship with Case has been turbulent. He sided with Case against Hirono in the primary for governor in 2002, but the alliance was broken by Case’s decision to challenge Akaka in 2006.
Inouye has suggested that Case is not trustworthy. He endorsed Hanabusa over Case in a special election for Congress last year, helped her with fundraising and discouraged the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from formally backing Case.
Hanabusa and Case split the Democratic vote in the special election, allowing Charles Djou, a Republican, to win with a plurality. Hanabusa defeated Djou in a rematch in urban Honolulu’s 1st Congressional District in November, but many Democrats thought the infighting during the special election unnecessarily put the seat in jeopardy.
Inouye has much closer contact with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which helps elect Democrats to the Senate nationally, than with the DCCC, which does the same for the House, so his influence could be greater in a Senate primary.
But the overriding mission for Inouye and other Senate Democrats next year will be to preserve the party’s Senate majority, which could be at risk because many of the most competitive campaigns involve Democratic seats.
Last month, Case met privately with Inouye in Honolulu, their first substantive one-on-one discussion since the blowup in 2006.
"I apologized," Case said last week of his conversation with Inouye. "I told him that I regretted very much the circumstances under which he has opposed me. And I apologized for any offense caused there.
"And he accepted both, and we had a very good discussion. It was open, relaxed, cordial — exactly what needed to happen."
Dan Boylan, a political analyst and retired University of Hawaii-West Oahu history professor, said Case might have won back some good will among traditional Democrats by his decision to skip a primary against Hanabusa after he lost in the special election.
"I think he may have resuscitated himself. He’s certainly demonstrated himself to be an intelligent guy. No one has ever questioned that," he said. "It’s just that he tried to take on a very beloved senator, and then he got involved in a congressional race where there were two (prominent) Democrats.
"If there is any hurt on him, it’s the flaw that he lost two big elections. If there is any plus on him, it is that he’s a moderate and he can appeal and appears (in early polls) to run better than any of the other candidates."
Case said yesterday that he does not believe Inouye and other establishment Democrats who resented his challenge to Akaka will undercut his ability to mount a credible Senate campaign.
"I think he’s taking a very practical perspective on this," Case said of Inouye. "He knows how important it is for Hawaii. He knows how important it is for the U.S. Senate. And he knows the importance of it from a Democrat national perspective."
Jonah Ka‘auwai, the state GOP chairman, said this would be Case’s fifth run for high-level political offices in the past decade.
"He is just the first of many Democrats who will get into this race and try to preserve the political status quo in Hawaii," he said in a statement. "Hawaii will be much better served with a balanced congressional delegation and we will look forward to providing voters with that option."