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Abercrombie's governor bid starts political guessing game


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POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

So far Congressman Neil Abercrombie stands alone on the starting line for the 2010 race for governor.

Of course, Democrats are unable to leave that primary race to the veteran congressman, so the question is, who else will jump in?

Mayor Mufi Hannemann's name comes up most. He is not discouraging speculation. He is not shy about handicapping the race. According to friends and supporters, Hannemann figures it's his for the taking, if he wants it. The Honolulu mayor says he has a jump on raising money, he is popular around the state and he has some tight friends in labor circles. But Hannemann stops short of the plunge.

His friends are urging more thought. If Hannemann runs for governor, he has to resign as mayor and if he loses, he is finished.

If Hannemann wins, he has a new set of problems. Washington Place is not where Hannemann wants to be; he has said he can see himself in Washington and he can really see himself striding through the U.S. Senate as the direct successor to Hawaii's iconic Dan Inouye.

The figuring goes like this: Say Hannemann wins the governorship, say he is in office for two terms — eight years. During that time it is likely that one of Hawaii's senators will leave office. Today they are both 84.

Hawaii law directs Senate vacancies to be filled by gubernatorial appointment from a list of three provided by the political party of the vacating senator.

If Hannemann is governor, he most certainly will control the Democratic Party, so if he wanted to be senator, it is likely that the party would pony up his name. Then Hannemann could either name himself senator or resign, and have his lieutenant governor assume the governorship and pick him.

So the choices are tacky and tackier. It is the kind of performance that would not endear Hannemann to any local voters. And his chances of winning the ensuing election are problematic.

The mayor is not the only politician with a big decision to make. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is on everyone's short list to run for either governor or Abercrombie's congressional seat.

She is bright, articulate and becoming more well known. She is also mired in a Legislature that is mulling over state-worker layoffs and tax hikes, while it took a 35 percent pay raise.

If anything, Hanabusa might be able to make her case to congressional voters, and if she loses, she is still in the state Senate.

So that leaves Abercrombie standing alone?

No so fast ... let me introduce you to Mr. Ed Case.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Sunday in the Star-Bulletin. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)