5 unknowns remain on GOP slate for Senate
Republicans lose their front-runner as Jerry Coffee recovers from heart surgery
With the Republican Party's anointed candidate for the U.S. Senate suspending his campaign, the primary-election field is left open to five little-known GOP contenders who have even less chance of beating the Democratic nominee, whoever it might be.
The sidelining of nationally known motivational speaker Jerry Coffee even before his campaign had gotten off the ground dims the already slim chance of a Republican replacing U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
Coffee, a 72-year-old former Vietnam prisoner of war supported by Gov. Linda Lingle, cut short his campaign after undergoing heart bypass surgery last week. Coffee had left for a charitable mission to Africa immediately after announcing his candidacy in July.
The remaining Republican candidates have little going for them beyond blind optimism -- a belief that an unknown, underfunded candidate in the state's minority party could somehow pull off a miracle.
But that is exactly what keeps some of them in the race.
"Look at the list of people who can win this. It's like a lottery ticket," said Republican candidate and attorney Jay Friedheim. "This is competitive, and guess what? I've got a ticket."
Both parties' nominees will be decided in the Sept. 23 primaries, and the winners will face off in the Nov. 7 general election.
On the Democratic side, the race is on between Akaka and U.S. Rep. Ed Case, who is giving up his seat in Congress.
On the Republican side, it is unclear whether Coffee will be able to recover enough to restart his campaign, said his son, Jerry Jr.
"There's no serious Republican candidate running for Senate," said Ira Rohter, a University of Hawaii political scientist. "I don't think there's any question. We don't even know who the Republican challengers are."
The six Republican candidates who have filed for the Senate include Coffee, Friedheim, attorney Mark Beatty, consultant Steve Tataii, former cowboy Chas Collins and businessman Eddie Pirkowski.
Beatty, 45, is the only Republican candidate who has reported raising money -- $6,267 -- with the Federal Election Commission as of June 30. By comparison, Akaka brought in nearly $1.8 million, and Case reported about $598,000.
Coffee entered the race after the financial disclosure filing deadline.
The Republican wannabes have a varied list of campaign themes.
"Akaka is no longer fit to be a U.S. senator," said Beatty, a former paratrooper who wants to improve Hawaii's public education system and fight drug use on the islands. He called Akaka "an ineffective and incompetent puppet of (Sen.) Dan Inouye."
Friedheim, 57, said he wants to start a draft that would compel citizens to either do public service, assist with natural disasters or enroll in the military.
"It's time for people to get together if we want to keep the freedoms we've had for the last 200 years," he said. "We don't have a single person to waste."
Tataii, 56, wants to use his Kurdish heritage to resolve conflicts in the Middle Eastern geographic area of Kurdistan, which includes parts of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
"My key interest is to try and come up with some kind of plan to help the Kurds in South Kurdistan become independent," he said.
Collins and Pirkowski did not immediately respond to inquiries Friday about their candidacies.
Collins wants to protect the earth and seek peace, according to his profile on the state elections Web page.
Pirkowski's goals are to reduce taxes, create a statewide budget surplus and seek resource independence for the Hawaiian Islands.
"We want to give the voters a choice in this election," said Republican Party Chairman San Aiona. "All of our nominees will be competitive."
Other candidates in the race include Libertarian Lloyd Jeffrey Mallan and independent C. Kaui Jochanan Amsterdam.