Case: Dems forgave Akaka challenge

Former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) says the drama he caused within the Democratic Party when he challenged sitting Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) is water under the bridge, but he also won’t rule out another Senate run.

“I polled this about a year ago. I basically wanted to get a sense of any lingering ill will that would hinder my future desire to serve,” he told The Hill. The results showed “I’m pretty much starting afresh in terms of that.”

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Case challenged Akaka in the 2006 Democratic Senate primary and lost, 53-46. Many Democrats were offended that he made Akaka’s age — the senator was 82 by Election Day — an issue.

Still, Case won’t rule out the possibility of another Senate run. “I’ve never ruled out the Senate,” he said. “If there is that opportunity, I’m not going to sit here at the end of 2009 and say I’m not going to be a candidate.”

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is up for reelection in 2010. He will be 86 years old that year. Akaka is up again in 2012.

But this year Case is running for retiring Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s (D-Hawaii) seat.

Asked whether he thought Akaka would endorse his Democratic primary opponent Colleen Hanabusa in the primary, Case said, “I would hope and expect that Sen. Akaka would leave it up to the voters in the 1st congressional [district].”

Abercrombie turned the race to succeed him into high gear when he announced last week he’s leaving his seat early to devote more time to his gubernatorial campaign.

His office said the congressman planned to remain in Washington until the end of January.

Case, who launched the first TV ad of the campaign on Monday, said he was preparing for an early-April vote even though the special-election date hasn’t been set.

The election would be a “winner-take-all” affair in which all candidates would be thrown into one field, regardless of party.

That could help the Republican candidate, Honolulu Councilor Charles Djou, who is unopposed on the GOP side, while state Senate President Hanabusa and Case battle it out on the Democratic side.

Case represented the state’s 2nd congressional district from 2002 to 2007 and said he represents “a significantly broader and more inclusive swath of the electorate” than does Hanabusa.

“I do have the substantially better chance of prevailing against Djou,” he said. “From the perspective of prevailing as a Democrat over the Republican, I think I’m the better candidate.”

When asked if Hanabusa should step out of the race, Case said: “Yes.”

This isn’t the first time Hanabusa and Case have gone head to head.

They faced each other in a 2002 special House election that Case won, and found themselves on opposite sides during the 2008 president election.

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Case campaigned for President Barack Obama while Hanabusa headed up Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s Hawaii campaign. Obama ended up winning the state.

While Case admitted he was “expecting” to face Hanabusa again — both had announced their candidacies before Abercrombie announced his resignation — he didn’t agree the race was a grudge match. Instead, he pointed out the dilemma his opponent is now facing.

“Does she want to remain Senate president, in which case she really can’t run for Congress in a special election, or does she want to run for Congress in a special election where she might not prevail and lose her Senate presidency? That’s the choice that she has,” he said.

The State Legislature reconvenes in January, and observers say Hanabusa may need to step down from her role in order to focus on the special-election campaign.

However, she’ll only need to do that if the special election is set for the spring. One proposal being floated is to put off the vote until September, when the parties would have held their primaries.

Calls to Hanabusa’s campaign were not returned by press time.

In an earlier interview with The Hill, Djou noted Case and Hanabusa live outside the 1st congressional district — Djou doesn’t — and signaled his campaign would make residency an issue.

“I do reside outside the district,” Case said. “In Hawaii, we’ve made a habit of it. When I ran [in 2002] and was elected to represent the 2nd [congressional district], I lived in the 1st. I subsequently moved to the 2nd — half a mile from the 1st district.”

Case boiled his message down to: “Experience works.”

Abercrombie is “leaving 19 years of seniority in the House,” Case said. “Do you want somebody filling out his term who has seniority, who has experience, who has relationships, who knows issues, who knows Washington? Or do you want somebody that’s going to go in that has no clue, really?

“I have the experience and seniority in Washington that [Hanabusa] doesn’t.”