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Hawaii Braces for Democratic Primary Clash

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Rep. Mazie Hirono is among several Democrats interested in replacing retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka in Hawaii.

Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) has said she doesn’t have the “bloody primary” problem that Republicans face in races across the country, but she clearly was not referring to Hawaii’s Senate contest.

The roles are reversed in the Aloha State, home to some infamously competitive Democratic primaries in recent years and where former Gov. Linda Lingle looks to have a clear path to the GOP nomination if she runs.

Several Democrats are interested in replacing retiring Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka, including the state’s two Congresswomen, Reps. Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa.

“I haven’t seen a race yet in Hawaii where there isn’t a Democratic primary,” Hanabusa told Roll Call in an interview from her Congressional office. “A race as important as this — many would consider you’re not going to have an opportunity like this again — you’re going to find there will be a lot of Democrats that are more than willing to step up to the plate.”

The opportunity is indeed rare. There have been only five Hawaiian Senators in the 52-year-old state’s history, and Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye has been in office nearly that entire time. Akaka was elected in 1990, succeeding just two Senators who held the seat for the previous 30 years.

Hanabusa told Roll Call that she is taking a serious look at the race and has set up an appointment with the DSCC. She said the committee has made it known it wants to speak with anyone interested in running, but it is not actively recruiting any one candidate.

“The primary consideration is always how to best serve Hawaii,” Hanabusa said of her decision-making process. “I don’t see making the decision immediately, but I do believe that it’s going to have to be made probably before the end of the year.”

Hirono also confirmed her interest in the race to Roll Call. “Many people have encouraged me to look at the race for U.S. Senate,” she said in an email. “I’m humbled by this encouragement and I am taking a careful look at it.”

Among the other Democrats considering bids are former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. Meanwhile, former Rep. Ed Case, who has been in the middle of a few recent Democratic primary battles, this month became the first candidate to enter the race.

Case is shaking off two straight election losses and trying again to make it back to Washington, D.C. He and Hanabusa split the Democratic vote in the odd three-candidate special election last year in the 1st district to replace Neil Abercrombie, who is now governor, allowing Republican Charles Djou to win the Honolulu-based seat. Djou lost to Hanabusa in the November election for a full term.

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