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Abercrombie picks another target — the governorship


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POSTED: Sunday, March 08, 2009

I'm waiting for water at the Nuuanu Y gym and the 5-foot, 8-inch mound of towels and sweatshirts in front of me takes a towel off his head to get a drink.

It is Congressman Neil Abercrombie, the 70-year-old power weightlifter who is in training for his yearly — and so far successful — challenge to benchpress his age plus 200 pounds.

This year Abercrombie has set another challenge: win the governorship in 2010.

At the gym, I tell him that I have been trying to reach him for a week. He says, “;Come into my office,”; motioning to the benchpress apparatus. He directs me to spot him as he starts rapping out sets of 12 lifts and answering my questions. I neglect to tell him that if he falters, it will take more than me to pull the 185 pounds of weighs off his neck.

It is pure Abercrombie bravado, a politician I have watched since 1970 when he first ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate against the late Republican Hiram Fong.

After almost 40 years in politics, including 20 in Congress, Abercrombie is not slowing down. He has been a state representative, senator, City Councilman and congressman. It seems like the only elective office he has not run for is pope.

Because of spending so much time in Washington instead of Hawaii, Abercrombie has friends and supporters here, but no big political machine, although he has tried to be a faithful friend to the Democratic Party, offering his campaign office to officials for meetings and campaigning for Democratic incumbents in primaries, such as Sen. Dan Akaka against former Rep. Ed Case.

Along the way, his has developed a distinct speaking style. What was once bombast and froth is now more inspirational. When he addressed delegations at the Democratic National Convention in Colorado last year, the Arkansas delegates were ready to put him on their shoulders and carry him around the ballroom.

In Washington, Abercrombie says he has reached the “;zenith”; of his political power, chairing the House Armed Services Committee's air and land forces subcommittee, meaning the Army and Air Force are under his direct supervision. Veteran Neil-watchers always shake their heads at that because during the Vietnam War, Abercrombie was one of the most vocal protesters at the University of Hawaii.

In this political season, Abercrombie could be going against the rest of the top state Democrats, Mayor Mufi Hannemann, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case.

If Abercrombie has learned that you get more done with a little honey in the lemonade, he will have to figure out how to get the mixture just right.