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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

VOLCANIC ASH
What political future does Ed Case envision?

By David Shapiro

U.S. Rep. Ed Case's peevish behavior since he lost his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary makes you wonder if he still plans a political future.

Case was less than effusive in congratulating Akaka on election night, skipped the party's unity breakfast the next morning and then blew town to tend to unfinished congressional business in Washington and vacation with his wife in Southeast Asia.

The Washington Post caught up with him visiting a former POW camp in Vietnam, but he's been invisible locally as Akaka faces Republican Cynthia Thielen in Tuesday's general election.

Thielen is actively courting Case Democrats, and even moved into his old campaign headquarters. Case made no clear endorsement before leaving town, saying that his supporters are independent-minded.

Case's wish to decompress from a long and hard campaign is understandable, as is his pique at campaign tactics by Akaka supporters who questioned whether he's a real Democrat because of his moderate views, which Case believes were distorted.

But if Case hopes to remain a force in Democratic politics, he would have been wise to suck it up and be visibly supportive of Akaka and other fellow Democrats in the general election just as disappointed Democrats who lost to Mazie Hirono in the race for Case's 2nd Congressional District seat have done.

Before he challenged Akaka, Case was riding high in the party, and many Democrats considered him their golden boy for the future.

He would have made a formidable opponent against Republican Gov. Linda Lingle this year and would have been the favorite for a future Democratic U.S. Senate nomination if he had waited for Akaka or senior Sen. Daniel Inouye to step down.

But Case has always gone his own way and has never been accused of patience. With both Hawai'i U.S. senators in their 80s, he felt strongly that the time to start a transition was now, and took on Akaka against steep odds made worse when the election turned into a referendum on the war in Iraq.

His audacious challenge of the status quo alienated liberal Democrats and party traditionalists, and many who were once his supporters turned hard against him as he pulled only 45 percent of the vote in losing badly to Akaka.

Case has been coy about his future, telling Gannett News Service reporter Dennis Camire, "I've always had three focuses my family, Hawai'i and public service. Whatever I do will definitely have those three components in it. I'm not in a rush to have it take final form."

He retains a strong core of support among reform-minded Democrats and has been more successful than most Democrats in reaching beyond the party to draw independent and Republican support.

Case's base of independents, young voters and newcomers is a growing demographic, while the party's traditional plantation base is shrinking.

But traditionalists remain important in any Democratic primary, and Case's refusal to play the good soldier in defeat by showing even nominal support for the party's ticket in the general election blew his best chance of doing a little kissing and making up.

Some speculate that Case will turn Republican, but he's been a lifelong Democrat, and it's difficult to see his decidedly liberal philosophies on social issues and the environment meshing with the GOP.

And if he were to run for a future U.S. Senate seat as a Republican, his ambitions would likely clash with Lingle's.

Whether Case remains active in politics or not, this election has put his embittered Democratic supporters into play, and it will be telling to see how many cross over and vote for Thielen against Akaka.

David Shapiro, a veteran Hawai'i journalist, can be reached by e-mail at dave@volcanicash.net. Read his daily blog at blogs.honoluluadvertiser.com.