Age becomes issue in Case’s U.S. Senate campaign
The second-term congressman argues that voters need to plan for the future now
Rep. Ed Case will not come out and say it, but the underlying message of his campaign to unseat 81-year-old Sen. Daniel Akaka is clear: The old man has to go.
Whether bold or foolhardy, the second-term congressman is abandoning a secure seat in the House to challenge a fellow Democrat who has not stirred much controversy with his voting record, created no political scandal and seemed a sure bet for re-election.
The main issue Case, 53, has raised against Hawaii's junior senator is rooted in the fact that Akaka is 81 years old, just four days younger than Hawaii's other senator, Daniel Inouye. Case said it was time to "phase in the next generation" when he announced his candidacy.
Case is trying to convince voters that Akaka's age puts Hawaii in danger because the state would lose a lot of seniority in the U.S. Senate if he or Inouye were unable to serve. Case said voters need to plan for Hawaii's future by electing a younger candidate like him.
"A small state like Hawaii especially relies upon a continuity of seniority, experience and relationships," Case told the Associated Press. "What Hawaii doesn't want and cannot afford is for that continuity ever to be broken."
Akaka turns Case's argument around, saying his age is exactly what makes him the most qualified candidate.
"It's very important to Hawaii to maintain senior positions there as long as we can," Akaka said in an interview. "When changes are necessary, the people in senior positions can do it and do it well."
Akaka, who has served in the Senate since 1990, is the fourth-oldest member of the Senate. The oldest senator is 88-year-old Robert Byrd, D-W.Va. Inouye is No. 3, but he is not up for re-election until 2010.
Akaka underwent knee replacement surgery in December 2001 and August 2002, and he had hip replacement surgery in August 2000. He also needed a skin graft in August 2004 to help heal an ankle injury when he was struck with a golf ball.
Philosophically, Case is labeling himself as a moderate who can appeal to independents, while Akaka is more of a traditional Hawaii liberal.
Cec Heftel, a Honolulu school board member who claimed Democratic Party operatives derailed his candidacy for governor in 1986, said the decision should rest with the voters, not with party leaders.
"I think Case has a very difficult time ahead of him," Heftel said. "It's a shame that there seems to be a suggestion that the loyalty is to the party instead of the people."
Akaka said that if the Democrats get control of the Senate, he and Inouye would be in line for committee chairmanships that could advocate for Hawaii.