Republicans are moderately enthusiastic about Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D-Hawaii) retirement, acknowledging the state’s heavy Democratic leanings will make it a tough race.
They are looking to former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), who indicated earlier this year that she would consider a Senate bid. She is a solid fundraiser, was the first Republican governor the state elected in almost 40 years and won her 2006 reelection bid by the largest margin in state history.
Another potential candidate is former Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii), who told The Hill late Wednesday that he is considering a run.
Djou described Lingle, who happens to be his next-door neighbor, as a "very good friend" and indicated that her decision will have some impact on his own. He didn't offer a timetable on a decision, but acknowledged the 2012 environment will play a role in the process.
"The environment will be challenging, there's no doubt," said Djou, who served less than a year in Congress. "President Obama continues to enjoy stratospheric approval ratings here. That is clearly going to be part of the consideration for Gov. Lingle and for myself."
Democrats start with an edge, as Obama will be on the top of the ticket in his home state. Obama enjoys higher approval ratings in Hawaii than anywhere else in the nation. And he easily bested Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainBiden: A good coach knows when to change up the team These Senate seats are up for election in 2022 Redistricting reform key to achieving the bipartisanship Americans claim to want MORE (R-Ariz.) there in 2008, garnering close to 70 percent of the vote.
One hope for Republicans could be a messy Democratic primary, which tends to be a pattern in Hawaii.
On the Democratic side, the field of rumored contenders is led by the state's two Democratic congresswomen — Reps. Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats, poised for filibuster defeat, pick at old wounds Schumer prepares for Senate floor showdown with Manchin, Sinema Dems worry they'll be boxed out without changes to filibuster, voting rules MORE. Former Rep. Ed Case, former Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann are among other potential Democratic hopefuls.
"I'm not ruling it out," Hanabusa told The Hill of a 2012 Senate run Thursday. "But I'm not ruling it in, either. Right now I think it's just really premature to even be talking about it."
Either way, Hanabusa expressed confidence that the seat will remain in Democratic hands.
Case, whom Hanabusa battled in the May 2010 special election that won Djou his short-lived spot in Congress, is also considering a bid. Case and Hanabusa split the Democratic vote in the special, which allowed Djou to win with just 40 percent of the vote.
It wouldn’t be Case’s first run for the Senate. He made some enemies when he challenged Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary, which the senator won handily.
"For those who've asked, I remain interested in serving Hawaii in the U.S. Senate," Case said in an e-mail to supporters Wednesday. "Today, though, is not the time and place for that decision; that will come soon enough."
To most in-state observers, Akaka’s decision wasn't a surprise, but several, including Djou, said they didn't expect it to come so early in the cycle. Hawaii has one of the latest primaries in the country, with the 2012 contest not scheduled until August of next year.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayThese Senate seats are up for election in 2022 CDC leader faces precarious political moment Schumer ramps up filibuster fight ahead of Jan. 6 anniversary MORE (Wash.) has leaned on Senate Democrats contemplating retirement to make their decisions early in an attempt to avoid a late search for a candidate.
Akaka’s announcement Wednesday continued a recent string of Senate Democratic retirements, which have created more open-seat opportunities for Republicans next year, increasing the GOP’s chances of winning control of the Senate.
Akaka is the fifth member of the Senate Democratic Conference to announce his retirement. Sens. Kent Conrad (N.D.), Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Jim Webb (Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) also have decided against running in 2012.
National Republican Senatorial Committee Chairman spokesman Brian Walsh called Hawaii’s open seat "an unexpected opportunity" and said Republicans will "make the most of it in 2012."