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While many members fight to distance themselves from an unpopular Congress this cycle, thousands of miles away, two Democrats are battling to brag about who has tighter ties to Capitol Hill.
The competitive Democratic primary in Hawaii, the most isolated state in the country, is being waged over who can a carry on a legacy of securing crucial federal funding.
Appointed Sen. Brian Schatz faces a stout challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa in the special election for the remaining two years of the late Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s term. Since being seated in December 2012, Schatz has increased his name recognition across the state while also working to build a legislative résumé to take back home to voters ahead of the Aug. 9 primary — when the Senate race will be decided in all likelihood.
Just more than a year ago, Hawaii’s 76 combined years of senatorial seniority was wiped out by Inouye’s death and the coinciding retirement of Daniel K. Akaka. Now, Schatz is shining a spotlight on the relationships he’s fostered with Capitol Hill power brokers a little more than a year into his tenure, including a recent tour of Oahu’s military facilities with Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin.
“I know he found it fruitful, and everybody in Hawaii was thrilled that the lead appropriator on defense was able to visit Hawaii,” Schatz said in a Tuesday interview with CQ Roll Call. “He certainly understands how important the military presence is to the Hawaii economy, so it was a good trip all around.”
While Schatz benefits from many of the perks of incumbency, Hanabusa says she’s not approaching the race as the challenger. The 1st District representative was Inouye’s choice to succeed him, pitched in a deathbed letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie, who passed her over in favor of Schatz. Hanabusa now has the backing of Akaka, as well as a pair of former Democratic governors, among others.
“I’ve always said that this is an election that’s the first time the people of the state of Hawaii are going to have an opportunity to determine who should fill the remaining term of Sen. Inouye’s seat,” Hanabusa said by phone between events on Kauai, the state’s northern-most island. “That’s what this is about. I feel very good about the race.”