The strange alignment of Hawai'i's Democratic stars in Connecticut's Senate race between Joseph Lieberman and Ned Lamont is generating twisting plot lines in the local party as it deals with its own heated Senate race.
Sens. Daniel K. Inouye and Daniel Akaka both supported the incumbent Lieberman in last week's Democratic primary, as did U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who is challenging Akaka for the Hawai'i Senate seat.
But the three are going separate ways now that Lieberman is running as an independent after losing the primary to Lamont in a rush of voter resentment over Lieberman's support of President Bush's war policies in Iraq.
Akaka supports Democratic nominee Lamont, while Inouye and Case have said they'll forsake their party's nominee and back Lieberman in his independent run.
It gets especially complicated for Inouye, Hawai'i's senior senator. He disagrees with Lieberman on Iraq, he strongly supports Akaka in his anti-war campaign against Case, but he agrees with Case in supporting Lieberman.
Nationally, many Democrats are trying to persuade Lieberman to drop his independent campaign for fear he'll split the Democratic vote and hand the seat to a Republican in a year when Democrats have a chance to make gains in the Senate.
Nevertheless, Inouye has said he'll support Lieberman as an independent because he's concerned about his party's single-issue focus on Iraq — even though he personally sides with the anti-war view.
Case, who is more in agreement with Lieberman on Iraq, said he admires the Connecticut senator's moderate independence and ability to work with Democrats and Republicans alike to "get things done."
Case said, "There is a core group of 15 to 20 senators in the Senate today that are increasingly providing the only realistic, broad-based debate and solutions in our entire federal government to a myriad of challenges. I call them the fulcrum of leadership in our country today, and hope to join them. Lieberman is one of them, and we can't afford to lose him, especially if the alternative is another extreme, purely partisan senator of either party."
For Akaka, it's a straightforward matter of respecting the wishes of Connecticut's Democratic voters. "Senator Akaka is supporting the choice of the people — Lamont," said his campaign spokeswoman, Elisa Yadao.
A few Democrats are discussing whether Inouye and Case should be sanctioned by the party for backing a candidate other than the Democratic nominee in Connecticut, noting that local party rules seriously frown on such disloyalty.
Other Democrats here have faced discipline for crossovers in the past; O'ahu Democrats brought charges against former state Sen. Milton Holt for supporting Frank Fasi in his Best Party run against Ben Cayetano, and the state party tried to sanction at least one Democrat who supported Ralph Nader's third-party run for president against Al Gore.
"If they can do it to the little ones, what about the big ones — or are they too tied to Inouye's money?" said Marsha Joyner, a Democratic activist and former state Senate candidate.
Some Akaka backers who have questioned Case's commitment to the Democratic Party would love to make an issue of his support for Lieberman, but they can't credibly do so as long as their patron, Inouye, is also backing Lieberman.
State Democratic Chairman Mike McCartney said no investigation of Inouye or Case would be launched unless a party member files a formal complaint — and even then, he isn't inclined to pursue the matter.
"I respect both Dan and Ed," McCartney said. "I have more important things to do than get involved in a technical debate over the rules that distract us from what we have to do — get Democrats elected."