It was Hawaii’s akamai and powerful senior U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye who first publicly questioned whether U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka was raising enough money to fund a realistic re-election campaign.
Within weeks of the Inouye remarks, Akaka said he would not run again but would remain in the Senate till the end of his term.
Insiders said Akaka "drew a line in the sand." He would retire; he would not step down early.
But from Washington there are new concerns about Akaka’s performance and even his ability to function at the age of 86.
An Associated Press report last week about California U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s re-election chances at 78, notes that the Senate has several senior citizen senators. "Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, is so inactive at 86 that staffers joke that Hawaii is the only state with one senator, although the state’s other Democratic senator, Daniel Inouye, is also 86," AP wrote.
While Akaka does issue press releases and has been seen at committee hearings, it was noted that he was removed as chairman of the Veterans Affairs committee and given the decidely less strenuous Indian Affairs subcommittee chairmanship.
Akaka has not held a news conference or talked to reporters since before he announced his retirement.
Meanwhile, the Inouye concern about successfully filling the Hawaii Senate seat with a Democrat is taking on national political importance.
At this time, there are 33 Senate seats up next year. Analysts say if Democrats lose just four of those races, they will lose control of the Senate.
Political prognosticators say Hawaii will remain Democratic, but right now there is a whispered uncertainty about Hawaii Democrats being able to deliver the goods.
"With the president coming from Hawaii and the third most powerful person in Washington being Sen. Inouye, we don’t want to screw this up," said a Democratic strategist.
So the speculation continues that Akaka might be convinced to retire now, allowing Gov. Neil Abercrombie to appoint a strong, viable Democratic successor able to beat the presumable GOP opponent, former Gov. Linda Lingle.
Already U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case are running for Akaka’s seat; U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa has expressed interest, but there is still much worry in the Democratic camp.
Lingle is no regular GOP candidate; she nearly beat a sitting Democratic governor in 1998, she did beat a Democratic lieutenant governor in 2002, trounced a Democratic machine candidate in 2006 and if she runs, would enjoy tremendous national Republican support.
Hirono has not seemed to be a household word; Case has the political center staked out, making him tough for Lingle to slam as just another Democrat. Hanabusa is tight with Inouye, but is still new and untested. Also under discussion is Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, who on the record won’t comment on the Senate race.
Finally into the equation is public reaction to the Abercrombie administration: Is Abercrombie still popular enough among voters to help a candidate in the general election, or will he drag that candidate down?
Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.