Ex-presidential candidate lends support to Akaka
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
By Derrick DePledge
WAILUKU — U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich, an Ohio Democrat who ran for president in 2004 on an anti-war platform, described U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka yesterday as a man of strength and courage who resisted the pressure to give President Bush the authorization to invade Iraq.
Kucinich told the Democratic Century Club at a luncheon at Maui Tropical Plantation that Akaka was among the minority in the Senate in October 2002 who were "wise enough to understand that going to war against Iraq was the wrong thing to do."
Kucinich, who was second to U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., in the Hawai'i presidential caucus two years ago, is making appearances with Akaka here, on the Big Island and in Honolulu over the next few days.
Akaka's campaign has made Iraq a dominant theme in his September primary against U.S. Rep. Ed Case, sensing that public opinion among many Democrats in the Islands, and across the country, has turned pessimistic on the war.
Many Democrats nationally are interpreting U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman's primary defeat Tuesday by millionaire businessman Ned Lamont in Connecticut as a measure of the war's potency as a political issue this year. Lieberman, the party's vice presidential candidate in 2000, was beaten largely because of his defense of the Bush administration's policies in Iraq.
Akaka reminded Democrats here that he had warned before the invasion that Iraq likely had no weapons of mass destruction, that the Bush administration lacked an adequate post-war strategy, and that the United States should not invade countries unilaterally.
"As we look backward today," Akaka said, "every one of the things that I told you was true. So my vote was correct."
Case, who is scheduled to speak before the Democratic Century Club in two weeks, said by phone that Akaka is trying to make Iraq the only issue of the campaign but is not willing to debate the war in detail.
The congressman has said he would have likely voted to give Bush the authorization to go to war, like many Democrats did at the time. But he had misgivings about weapons of mass destruction shortly after the invasion and has said he would not have supported the war solely to remove former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.
The main disagreement between Akaka and Case on Iraq now is when to bring U.S. troops home. Akaka was among the minority of Senate Democrats who voted to remove troops by July 2007, while Case believes setting a specific timetable is naive because it is not connected to whether Iraq is stable and secure.
While Iraq is important, Case said, other issues, such as leadership transition and whether voters want a moderate or liberal voice in the Senate, also are at stake.
"Clearly, the central issues of this campaign go well beyond Iraq," he said.
Case also said that Akaka, and not his campaign advisers or allies, should be speaking to voters. Kucinich's campaign appearances are coming at the same time that Akaka has released a new television commercial with an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., who was born in Hono-lulu and spent much of his youth here. Obama calls Akaka a tireless worker for Hawai'i in the Senate.
"People in Hawai'i can figure this out for themselves," Case said of the primary. "They don't need people who don't know Hawai'i to tell them how to vote."
Several Democrats interviewed here yesterday said Iraq could have an influence on the primary, but many were unsure about the extent.
"You saw what happened to Lieberman," said Bob Watada, the former executive director of the state Campaign Spending Commission, who was speaking here on behalf of his son, Lt. Ehren Watada, who faces military punishment for refusing to deploy to Iraq.
"I think it's quite clear that candidates who oppose the war are going to benefit," Watada said.
Mike McCartney, the party's chairman, said the party is concerned about the impact of the war on all campaigns. "People have very strong thoughts and feelings about why we're there and what's the purpose of the war," he said.
"How do we leave with grace and dignity?"
Liz Dunlop, a tour guide who lives in Pukalani, said a friend in the Army told her he might have to deploy to Iraq in 18 months, indicating that the occupation may not be over anytime soon.
"I'm deeply concerned about it," Dunlop said. "I don't know what to do. I feel lost. They have no plans to leave."
Gregory Ball, a state public defender who lives in Ha'iku, said he has not gotten the sense that the war is the overriding issue in the Senate primary. But party loyalty may be important.
"Here in Hawai'i when we send a Democrat to Congress we expect him to be a Democrat," Ball said.
Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com.