Hawaiian politicians are heading into uncharted waters in 2014, when they will navigate the first election cycle since statehood without the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye.
Inouye, who died from respiratory complications in December, was the unofficial leader of the state’s Democratic Party, often helping boost candidates into higher office.
With his absence, and a rare open House seat on the table, many in the state’s farm team view 2014 as their shot to ascend to Congress. This cycle is on track to show the most political action in decades.
The Senate primary is set between Sen. Brian Schatz, a Democrat appointed to the seat by Gov. Neil Abercrombie following Inouye’s death, and Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, whom Inouye wanted to succeed him.
“There may be a third-party candidate, but by far anyone who wants a political future in Hawaii will stay out of the primary,” one Democratic operative said.
Republicans say their most promising candidates view the gubernatorial race as the more winnable statewide contest. Viable candidates will likely pass on a run for Senate.
As a result, the power jockeying will take place in the 1st District race, an open contest thanks to Hanabusa’s Senate bid.
With only two House seats in the state, Democrats say the opening will lead to a crowded primary, similar to the state’s 2nd District primary in 2006. In that race, 10 Democrats, including seven state lawmakers, vied for the seat, with the winner receiving just 22 percent of the vote.
Honolulu City Councilmember Stanley Chang, a young Harvard-educated politician, has already announced that he is running in the 1st District.
Other potential Democratic candidates include:
•Former Rep. Ed Case, who represented the state’s 2nd District until he unsuccessfully challenged former Sen. Daniel K. Akaka in a Democratic Senate primary in 2006. Since then, he’s made two failed attempts to rejoin the congressional delegation: a 2010 special-election bid for the 1st District and last cycle’s loss to now-Sen. Mazie K. Hirono.
• K. Mark Takai, a state representative since 1994 who represents a strong military district that includes Pearl Harbor.
• State Sen. William Espero, who serves as the majority floor leader.
• Mufi Hannemann, former mayor of Honolulu, who ran in 2012 for the 2nd District. He lost to now-Rep. Tulsi Gabbard.
• Honolulu City Councilmember Ikaika Anderson.
There are other Democrats who won’t run this time around, but who local operatives say could be attractive candidates in future cycles. That list includes:
• State Sen. Jill Tokuda, whom operatives described as well-connected and popular in her district, which includes a large military population.
• Lt. Gov. Shan Tsutsui, who operatives say may run for Congress down the line.
On the Republican side, GOP operatives touted “quality, not quantity” in their bench of rising stars.
Most often, consultants mentioned former Rep. Charles K. Djou as a potential candidate for 2014.
Djou, a lawyer and major in the Army Reserve, won a 2010 special election to succeed Abercrombie in the House. But he lost to Hanabusa in the general election later that year. Djou also lost a 2012 rematch to Hanabusa.
Republican operatives say many of the state’s rising stars will likely hold off on a run for Congress until future cycles.
• First-term state Rep. Lauren Cheape, a beauty pageant contestant who competed in the Miss America 2012 pageant as Miss Hawaii.
• State Rep. Richard Fale, a veteran who Republican insiders say could potentially challenge Gabbard in the 2nd District down the line.
• Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson, the state House’s new minority leader who has been praised for brokering bipartisan deals on the state level.
• First-term state Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, who pulled off an upset victory in 2012 to become the first Republican to unseat a Democratic incumbent in many years.
• Honolulu City Councilmember Kymberly Pine. Pine, who is of Filipino descent, would appeal to the large Filipino population in the state, operatives say.
Farm Team is a state-by-state look at the up-and-coming politicos who may eventually run for Congress. The column runs on Thursdays.