GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, left, kicked off his re-election campaign at a "Filipinos for Akaka" event Aug. 11 at Farrington High School.
Congressional races spark excitement
Case's challenge and his House departure galvanize Democrats
Two hot Democratic primary races will provide the excitement this election season.
The first started with a move that shocked political observers across the country: U.S. Rep. Ed Case jumped into the Democratic Senate race against U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka.
Case, 53, said he was in the race because it is time for a new generation to move up in Hawaii politics. With both Akaka and U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye in their early 80s, the Democrats risk having one of the two either die in office or be unable to complete their term, Case argues.
If that happened, Republican Gov. Linda Lingle would be able to appoint a senator to the seat, with the only restriction being that the person be a Democrat.
Case contends it would be better to have the voters rather than Lingle pick a successor.
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Akaka challenger U.S. Rep. Ed Case, his wife, Audrey, right, and supporters waved signs in Kalihi that same day.
Akaka, the affable 30-year veteran Democrat, has responded to Case's challenge with a well-financed campaign that has the support of Hawaii's established Democratic Party and national leaders such as U.S. Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., and Barack Obama, D-Ill.
Still, Case is considered to be a strong challenger. A SurveyUSA poll, for instance, tracks all 100 senators' approval ratings, and Akaka's disapproval rating has risen from a low of 23 percent in May 2005 to a high of 43 percent in July. The monthly survey is taken by phone of 600 eligible voters and has a margin of error of 4 percent.
The Case shock wave was not contained to the Senate race, because his departure from his 2nd Congressional District seat launched a dash by 10 Demo-crats, two Republicans and one nonpartisan to replace him.
Eight of the 10 Democrats either are or were elected officeholders, and the two Republicans also have political experience.
If the race for Congress is competitive, the race for governor lacks the usual fury.
Lingle goes into the primary with only token opposition, and then in the general election will face the winner of a Democratic primary between former state Sen. Randy Iwase and Waianae harbormaster William Aila.
While Lingle has raised $6 million for her re-election, Iwase has collected $134,000 and Aila picked up $17,000.
Politicians watching the primary races this year are concerned not about the candidates, but about the voters. They are hoping that races for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House will be enough to interest people in the election.
Voter registration is up about 3.8 percent over the 2004 primary -- an estimated 650,000 voters this year compared with 626,120 two years ago.
"I think there will be a significant rise in voter turnout," predicts Senate President Robert Bunda (D, Kaena-Wahiawa-Pupukea).
"The contested primaries beg the issue of voter turnout. There will be increased turnout, especially for the Democrats," he said.
Republican Senate leader Sen. Fred Hemmings (R, Lanikai-Waimanalo) says Lingle's popularity is changing the race for all GOP candidates.
"We were relegated to being the loyal opposition, but now I am making a conscious effort now that we have Gov. Lingle to start leading.
"We have to be the voice of opportunity, reform and change, not the shrill voice of opposition," Hemmings said.