Case: Experience, energy and battle scars
Ed Case made a huge political miscalculation in 2006 by running for the U.S. Senate against incumbent Daniel Akaka. It lost him his seat representing the Second Congressional District, cost him money and political support and pushed him further outside the Democratic Party's tent.
Case is now playing up that estrangement more than ever before, disparaging the party "machine" and casting himself as an independent voice beholden only to the citizens of Hawai'i. Yes, I'm a Democrat, he says, but a moderate one, and indeed, he openly pals around with Republicans.
While he sometimes bangs this drum a bit loudly and repetitively, instead of talking about specific issues, Case's record in Congress and in the state House bears out his claims of contrariness.
An attorney and member of a well-known kama'āina family, Case has campaigned mainly on his prior, albeit brief, experience as a congressman representing the Second District. In his four years in Washington, Case was capable and responsive and no one could beat his stamina. His 172 community meetings, roughly four per month and many of them in remote Neighbor Island communities, must stand as some kind of record for constituent contact.
During his time in Congress, Case's votes placed him close to the middle on most social and economic issues. Based on his votes in 2006, the National Journal gave him a composite score of 59 on a scale with 100 being the most liberal. By comparison, Neil Abercombie was a 76 that year.
Case has the scars to prove that his politics aren't just a passing fad. A decade ago, as Democratic majority leader in the state House, Case split with Democratic colleagues on a number of issues, especially the state's rigid civil service laws. Unions saw him as a deceitful Democrat in name only and worked to dislodge him from his leadership post and the Legislature. Case ultimately stepped down as majority leader, finding it difficult to hew to the party line on key issues.
Politically, his down-the-middle political philosophy may appeal to voters dismayed by the polarization in Washington. But critics ask what exactly it is that Case stands for, what he's passionate about. His aloofness irritates many traditional Hawai'i Democrats.
Case is a pragmatist, not an idealogue. While he supported the economic stimulus package and health care reform, he believes the health care law is flawed and his complaints about the Jones Act and the current version of the Akaka bill sit well with local Republicans.