That sound you heard last week was the collective lip-smacking of numerous Hawaii politicians—both in and out of office—who are now chewing on a tantalizing question: who wants to become a United States Senator? It’s a pretty plumb gig—one that comes with influence, power and prestige. And the opportunity doesn’t present itself often; before 86-year-old Sen. Dan Akaka announced his intention to hang it up in 2012, Hawaii hadn’t seen an open Senate race in more than two decades.
No one is an official candidate yet, which means everyone is a potential candidate. Here’s a look at some of the prominent names that have been floated and their respective chances of stamping a ticket to Washington.
Long before Akaka’s announcement—and while she was still ensconced in the Governor’s mansion—Lingle was rumored to be eyeing a Senate bid. She stumped hard for McCain/Palin in 2008, making frequent trips to the Mainland and speaking at the Republican National Convention, in a clear effort to raise her national profile. She was a divisive figure at home and left office with her share of detractors, but the former Maui Councilmember and Mayor is not to be underestimated—you don’t nail down two gubernatorial terms in a deeply Democratic state without knowing how to campaign. Plus, it’s a safe bet the RNC will throw its weight behind this race, hoping to steal a suddenly up-for-grabs seat and embarrass President Obama in his home state.
Charles Djou—who got a taste of Washington life and enjoyed a brief honeymoon as a GOP darling—and former Lieutenant Governor Duke Aiona have also been mentioned as possible contenders. Djou hasn’t ruled out a run, but told D.C.’s The Hill that Lingle is a “close friend” and that he’s “interested in seeing what she decides to do.” Aiona, meanwhile, seems even less likely to challenge his old running mate. This looks like Lingle’s call all the way.
Case has gunned for Akaka’s seat before—and paid the price. In 2006, then-Representative Case defied prominent Democrats including senior Senator Dan Inouye and challenged Akaka in the primary. He was beaten soundly, and the Democratic machine refused to back him four years later when he ran against Colleen Hanabusa in a special election for Neil Abercrombie’s House seat. (Case and Hanabusa split the vote, allowing Charles Djou to slip in.)
Case is a perennial politician and, though he stepped aside in the September primary and allowed Hanabusa to run unchallenged, there’s no question he’s interested in seeking elected office again. Whether his party will support him is another matter; asked to list potential successors for his old colleague, Inouye has repeatedly failed to name-drop Case.
Rep. Colleen Hanabusa
The former state Senator has barely hit the ground in D.C., but the possibility of climbing another rung on the ladder may be too enticing to pass up. With no term limits and an astronomical advantage for incumbents, this is a rare and politically golden opportunity. Hanabusa released a statement praising Akaka, who she called “a great leader with humility and grace”—but she’s said nothing about her intentions.
Rep. Mazie Hirono
Hirono is in the same boat as Hanabusa, except that she’s been in Congress longer. And like Hanabusa she’s offered only praise for Akaka so far. She ran for governor against Lingle in 2002, losing a tight race, so there’d be some history at play if the two locked horns again.
If Hanabusa or Hirono decide to run, there’s a good chance Case and other state Dems might aim for their vacated seats instead.
After getting trounced by Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic gubernatorial primary, Hannemann accepted a pretty flimsy consolation prize: head of the Hawaii Hotel and Lodging Association. How badly does the former Honolulu Mayor want to get back into politics? Among the flood of congratulatory press releases that flowed out after Akaka’s announcement, Mufi’s was the only one that hinted at other intentions.
“While some may be curious, there will be plenty of time to discuss my own personal plans in light of his announcement,” wrote Hannemann. “Today, however, is a day to sing Senator Akaka’s praises.” Ah, the old “whatever you do, don’t look at me!” ploy. Works every time.