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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Watching the stars align in Hawaii's election next year

By David Shapiro

The stars are starting to align for Democrats in the 2010 election, with the announcement by former U.S. Rep. Ed Case that he'll run for the 1st Congressional District seat vacated by Rep. Neil Abercrombie, who is running for governor.

That leaves two Democratic heavy-hitters yet to make their moves Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, either of whom could run for governor or Congress, or stand pat.

Hannemann, who is coming off a successful re-election campaign with money and broad institutional support, is in no rush to make an announcement that would force him to resign as mayor, but he's emitting vibes that he thinks either job is his for the taking.

Hanabusa, who narrowly lost to Mazie Hirono in 2006 for the 2nd Congressional District seat, will have to carefully calculate if either race fits her.

Case held the 2nd District congressional district seat for two terms until he stepped down to unsuccessfully challenge U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka in 2006.

The more moderate and independent 1st District probably sets up better for him politically as he tries to undo bad feelings in the party from his Senate race, but he'll get some company before the filing deadline.

Besides Hannemann or Hanabusa, ambitious state senators and city councilmen who are in mid-term and wouldn't have to give up their jobs to run for federal office are good bets to jump in.

"Progressive" Democrats are sharpening their knives for Hanabusa in retaliation for her role in shooting down the civil unions bill in the Senate, but it's unlikely her standing with that faction will affect her plans.

Hanabusa never had a chance to get the support of the "progressives" in a race for governor against Abercrombie and it's difficult to see them supporting Case or Republican Charles Djou over her for the House seat.

The Republicans Djou for Congress and Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona for governor face the challenge of keeping their names in the conversation while Democrats make all the news.

Aiona's outspoken opposition to civil unions probably won him some new friends on that side of the battle, and the supporters of gay rights he antagonized probably wouldn't have voted for him anyway.

Djou has no trouble getting on the nightly news with his constant line of chatter on a wide range of issues, but he's going to have to go from words to deeds if he wants to rise to the upper tier of contenders.

An unknown is the role of outgoing Republican Gov. Linda Lingle; speculation is she'll sit out 2010 with an eye toward running for Akaka's Senate seat in 2012.

But that has its risks. If she remains on the sidelines and Hannemann or Abercrombie is elected governor, she faces two years of the kind of vicious bashing Hannemann has given his mayoral predecessor Jeremy Harris, which could render Lingle damaged goods by 2012.

If Akaka retires at 88 a big if and Case, Hannemann or Hanabusa win the 1st Congressional District seat, that's who Lingle likely would be facing for the Senate in 2012.

It might make more political sense for her to bigfoot Djou and run for the House herself in 2010 to try to knock out some of the top Democrats and gain a foothold in Washington that would give her the inside track for the Senate.

Of course she could lose the House race and effectively end her political career, but if she can't win a 2010 race for the House, it's unlikely she could win a 2012 Senate contest.

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