Posted on: Sunday, September 24, 2006
Akaka wins; Case concedes
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Akaka held a steady lead with votes in all of the precincts but one counted early this morning. Case had conceded just before midnight to his supporters outside his campaign headquarters on King Street.
Case said he had telephoned Akaka and offered his support.
"Losing is never easy. I haven't had one of those political careers like some of our other politicians where you've never lost in your entire career," Case said. "I have lost a few times and I lost tonight."
At Akaka's headquarters at Dole Cannery, the senator's supporters yelled "Case closed!" as they watched the congressman's concession speech on television. Earlier in the evening, the senator serenaded his supporters with song.
"What a great evening. It's great to hear the results that we've had so far but we've got to hear the rest of them," said Akaka, draped with lei and dressed in an orange aloha shirt.
Akaka thanked his supporters and recognized the help he received from U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. He said he would continue to work with Inouye in the Senate as a team.
"This is a great day for Hawai'i and a great day for the United States," Inouye told the crowd. "Dan Akaka is going back to Washington."
Former Vietnam prisoner of war Jerry Coffee was leading in the Republican primary for Senate even though he had withdrawn because of health reasons in August. Coffee's name remained on the ballot and Gov. Linda Lingle and other GOP leaders urged Republican voters to vote for him because if he wins the party would have until Tuesday to pick a replacement for the November election.
The Democratic primary was among the most intriguing political campaigns in modern Hawai'i, a test of whether traditional Democrats who have controlled the Islands since statehood still dominate or whether voters had drifted more to the center. Incumbents who have served a full term in Congress have been untouchable since statehood, so Case's decision to give up his safe 2nd Congressional District seat was both surprising and in bold defiance of Inouye and the state's party establishment.
Akaka, 82, asked voters to keep his experience and seniority in the Senate, while Case, 53, said it was time for leadership transition to a younger generation.
Many voters interviewed across the Islands yesterday said they had decided long ago, while others said they were uncertain right up until the end.
"I felt that I wanted Akaka's experience after all the positive things he has done for the Islands over the years," said Andrea Jeter, an administrative assistant who lives in Makakilo.
Kent Duffy, a retired Army intelligence officer who lives in 'Ewa, said he usually votes Republican but opted to cross over for Case after following his career since Case represented Manoa in the state House. "I thought it was the most interesting race," he said of the primary. "Ed is willing to buck the system.
"I think he will really stick his neck out."
Faith Tomoyasu, a public-school teacher who lives in Pearl City, is a loyal Democrat who praised Akaka for consistently opposing the war in Iraq.
"Sen. Akaka has always done the right thing. You cannot abandon somebody like that," she said.
Jill Engledow, of Wailuku, said she made up her mind fairly early in the campaign to vote for Akaka after attending a Case "talk story" event. "I think it's more about the stance that Case takes on the Iraq war, and just something about his attitude that reminds me of a Republican and not a Democrat.
"I think we need to take back as much of Congress as possible because I don't like the way things are going."
In Hilo, Kathleen Montvel-Cohen said she picked Akaka because she believes his seniority in the Senate counts for something. She described herself as an independent who often votes with Democrats and said she has her doubts about Case. "I think Case is being a Republican in disguise," she said.
Greg Swied, another Hilo voter who considers himself an independent, said he went for Case. Swied said he considered how long Akaka and Inouye have served in the Senate, and decided it was time for a change.
"Simply because they've been there so long, there needs to be new blood," he said.
Akaka has served 16 years in the Senate and 14 years in the U.S. House and is known as friendly and likable. But as in 1990, when Akaka faced a difficult test against former Republican congresswoman Pat Saiki, he found that many voters were unaware of his accomplishments since he has long been in the shadow of the more influential Inouye.
The primary revealed that the liberal Akaka and the moderate Case have significant differences on public policy, from the war in Iraq and electronic surveillance in the USA Patriot Act to oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska and protection of the domestic cargo shipping industry through the federal Jones Act.
Iraq has been the divisive political issue nationally this year and Akaka's campaign used the senator's opposition to the war as among his main selling points to traditional and progressive Democrats who were most likely to vote in the primary. Akaka was among the minority of Senate Democrats who voted for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq by July 2007.
Case, who has opposed a timetable for withdrawal until Iraq is stable, accused Akaka's campaign of turning the primary into a single-issue question on the war. The congressman said that while Iraq is important, it would likely be resolved within the next few years, while voters would be making the choice of who would represent them on foreign policy in the Senate for the future.
But voters, including many independents, often said in interviews during the campaign that Iraq was their most important issue. The primary was one of the few nationally where the war was the main difference between the candidates, and some analysts have drawn parallels between Hawai'i and Connecticut, where U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman lost his primary in August to businessman Ned Lamont mainly because of Lieberman's support for the Bush administration on the war.
The Connecticut and Hawai'i primary results could be a preview of how the war might influence other Senate and House races in the November mid-term elections.
Mainland interests, which have rarely gotten involved in Island politics over the years, chose sides between Akaka and Case and offered money and strategic help. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and organized labor favored Akaka, while the National Association of Realtors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce went with Case.
Akaka was able to raise more campaign money than Case, largely through national political action committees that typically favor incumbents, but Case had enough money to be competitive. The Akaka campaign reported raising more than $2.1 million through early September, while Case trailed at $627,750. The congressman also had access to an additional $185,000 at the start of his campaign from money he had raised over the past two years in the event he ran for re-election to the House.
Although the candidates mostly tried to keep a focus on issues rather than personalities, the primary was personal for many Democrats who had worked for both men in previous elections. The anger that Case would even challenge the elder Akaka lingered with many party loyalists through the campaign, especially after Case appealed to all voters, including independents and Republicans, to vote in the primary.
The tone of the campaign also veered toward the negative near the end, with Case bluntly describing Akaka as ineffective and some of Akaka's advisers claiming Case was beholden to conservative Mainland special interests because of his independent help from the Realtors and the national Chamber.
Alex Santiago, a former chairman of the Democratic Party of Hawai'i, said the party has been changing and looking for ways to grow after the wake-up call of Lingle's victory for governor in 2002. He said the Senate primary showed how internal change can be a painful experience, particularly if it is forced.
"I think this race illustrated how difficult that change and growth can be," Santiago said. "My sense is that how this is going to occur, when it is going to occur, will be decided upon by people who are Democrats and it's going to be done with a great deal more thought and care."
Staff writers Peter Boylan, Johnny Brannon, Kevin Dayton and Christie Wilson contributed to this report. Reach Derrick DePledge at firstname.lastname@example.org or 525-8070.