Election places Lingle in ideal spot for 2012 Senate race
Senator Akaka has defeated a challenge by Rep. Ed Case in the Democratic primary and is a shoo-in in the general election.
Sen. Daniel Akaka and Hawaii's Democratic machine are celebrating a victorious primary election
, having beaten back a challenge from within by a maverick Democrat, proving both the durability of the party's organization and the voters' loyalty to the old guard.
But taking a longer view, perhaps the biggest winner from Saturday's voting is Gov. Linda Lingle, now placed in an ideal position to succeed Akaka after her second gubernatorial term ends. Barring unforeseeable setbacks, Lingle likely will become Hawaii's first Republican U.S. senator since the late Hiram Fong retired 30 years ago.
If Akaka completes his third six-year term, he will be 88 when it expires in 2012 and he could seek yet another term. Lingle, who is expected to easily win re-election in November, will finish her second and, by law, final term as governor in 2010, giving her two years and an enormous campaign chest to run for the Senate. If Rep. Ed Case had defeated Akaka, he would have been able to claim incumbency and bipartisan support to maintain the Senate seat. Akaka's benevolence was more important to primary voters than those political realities.
The Democratic machine clearly is poised to support Akaka's continued service in Washington. If Akaka is unable to complete his term, the governor, under current law, would appoint to the Senate a Democrat of her choosing. She could pick the equivalent of Bev Harbin, a weak candidate who was trounced in Saturday's Democratic primary after being appointed by Lingle to the state House. Foreseeing that scenario, the Democrat-controlled Legislature is likely to repeal the law giving the governor such appointment powers during the next session.
Rep. Neil Abercrombie also has his eyes on the Senate in event of an opening. But if Akaka chooses to retire in six years, it would be unwise for Abercrombie in 2012 to squander what then will be 22 years of seniority in the House and, at age 74, seek to be a freshman senator. Without incumbency, Case would be an underdog in a 2012 Senate race against Lingle.
Mazie Hirono, who won the Democratic primary for Case's House seat on Saturday, is favored to win the general election and might be chosen by the machine to run for Akaka's seat if he retires at the end of his upcoming term. However, she might not want to take such a risk; Lingle defeated then-Lt. Gov. Hirono in the 2002 general election, and Lingle has gained immense popularity since then.
Forecasting about the makeup of Hawaii's Washington delegation presumes that the powerful Sen. Daniel Inouye, himself 82, will continue in office. Although Hawaii has gained much from Inouye's seniority -- third-highest in the Senate -- its leverage has been limited by being represented solely by Democrats in a GOP-controlled Congress. That could change next year if Democrats gain control of the House or, less likely, the Senate. Nevertheless, being represented in Congress by a single party has drawbacks.
If Republicans maintain control of Congress in the coming years, the careers of Inouye and Akaka come to an end close to each other and the Democratic machine is able to determine their successors, Hawaii's sizable federal pork could quickly evaporate. Lingle will be able to explain those dire consequences in a general election six years from now.