Any Democrats hoping that former Rep. Ed Case would step aside to clear a path for Rep. Mazie Hirono to be the Hawaii Senate nominee shouldn’t hold their breath.
Case has been out of Washington, D.C., longer than his tenure in town and has no prominent or visible support here. He has made it clear he is prepared to paint his primary rival as an insider’s choice.
“Mazie is not the change candidate. She is the inside Washington, status-quo candidate,” Case told Roll Call. “And that fundamentally is going to be the difference between us.”
The former Congressman’s unrelenting argument centers on his own viability against former Gov. Linda Lingle (R), despite the fact that the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee endorsed Hirono and an internal poll from Hirono’s campaign shows her leading Case by 18 points.
Case said the DSCC endorsement only confirms his position that Hirono represents more of the same in an election in which he believes voters desire an outsider to bust through the insular Capitol Hill bubble.
“The sentiments in Hawaii about Washington’s failure of leadership are no different than the rest of the country,” Case said.
Hirono is about to cash in on the DSCC endorsement. According to an invitation obtained by Roll Call, she will be in Seattle on Friday for a fundraiser hosted by Strategies 360 and headlined by DSCC Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.), EMILY’s List and Washington Democratic Reps. Norm Dicks, Rick Larsen, Jim McDermott and Adam Smith. The event at a Belltown restaurant asks for donations of at least $125, with $2,500 earning donors “host” status.
Case knows the establishment chips are stacked against him, which means he’ll surely trail in fundraising for the next eight months until the Aug. 11 primary. Hirono raised more than twice as much as Case in the third quarter — $302,000 to $136,000 — and her lead will likely grow in the fourth quarter.
Hirono’s establishment support is thanks in part to the greatest influence in Hawaii Democratic politics, Sen. Daniel Inouye. The nine-term Senator wants Hirono to succeed his good friend, retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka (D), and serve alongside him in the Senate. While he hasn’t given an official endorsement, Inouye has attended at least two Hirono fundraisers in D.C.
In an interview, Hirono only briefly mentioned Case. But she said having the support of colleagues and the DSCC speaks for itself, given that her primary opponent served with all four Washington state Democrats attending the fundraiser.
“It’s really important that I have the support of respected Senators like Patty Murray, and of course the DSCC, and my colleagues with whom I’ve worked over the last five years,” Hirono said.
“They know that I fight for the people of Hawaii and that I share the values of the people of Hawaii,” she said. “So I’m very grateful that I’m getting the support of so many of my colleagues and, I hope, soon-to-be colleagues.”
One endorsement she won’t be receiving is that of fellow Hawaii Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who told Roll Call she will not take sides because she knows both candidates well.
Along with party and local union support, Hirono believes her story as a Japanese immigrant who overcame long odds to become a Member of Congress, along with the values she picked up along the way, is a message that will resonate with voters at this particular time.
“Going through economic hard times is something I know firsthand,” she said.
This is Case’s second run for the seat. He gave up his House position to challenge Akaka in the 2006 primary, permanently damaging his relationship with Inouye and the local party establishment.
Hirono has hired someone who helped Akaka survive Case’s challenge. Betsy Lin, who served as Akaka’s field director in 2006 and as a DSCC deputy political director in the 2008 cycle, left her position as Hirono’s chief of staff in late November and moved to Hawaii to take over as campaign manager. Hirono recently announced that local business leader Tim Johns will serve as her campaign
Much of Hirono’s consulting team remains in place from last cycle. Still on board are Rich Davis of Dixon/Davis Media Group, Sheila O’Connell for direct mail and Pete Brodnitz of Benenson Strategy Group, who conducted Hirono’s recent poll. Her team also consists of Amie Kershner of AKM Consulting for fundraising and online strategists Brent Blackaby and Jamie Ruth of Trilogy Interactive.
While Case spent just four years as a Member on Capitol Hill — he was also an aide to the late Sen. Spark Matsunaga for three years — he’s been running for public office for 26 years and has racked up losses in state House, state Senate, House, Senate and gubernatorial races. His most recent defeat came when he and Hanabusa split the Democratic vote in a May 2010 special election and lost the three-way battle for the House seat to Republican Charles Djou. Hanabusa defeated Djou that November.
Yet Case is running again and banking that his grass-roots approach can overcome Hirono’s advantages. Case said he just finished a six-week swing across the islands and spoke with 5,000 people. He said he’s using that as his poll guidance for now.
“They will not vote for the status quo, period,” Case said a few days before Hirono released her poll. “Whatever any poll says, or whatever anybody says between now and Election Day, won’t change that ultimate judgment of the voters.”