Winds of Change Could Be Blowin’

Will Abercrombie Say ‘Aloha’ in 2010?

Posted January 16, 2009 at 6:02pm

Change may have been the theme of last year’s elections, but in 2010 the waves of change could finally hit the shores of Hawaii — the boyhood and adolescent home of Barack Obama.

Although the state boasts one of the oldest Congressional delegations in the country, an open-seat race for governor in 2010 could put at least one House seat and a future Senate race in flux.

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D) is pondering a bid for governor, and if he runs, his Big Island seat would be open for the first time since 1990.

Popular Republican Gov. Linda Lingle is term-limited next year and could challenge either Sen. Daniel Inouye (D) in 2010 or Sen. Daniel Akaka (D) in 2012 — and give Republicans their best chance of

penetrating the delegation in two decades.

But the big kahuna in the corner could be Obama, who has said he plans to continue his annual vacation trips to Hawaii during his presidency. Hawaii Republican Party Executive Director Adam DeGuire said the Hawaii native remains extremely popular there.

“Barack Obama was an obstacle in 2008 and we anticipate him to be an obstacle in 2010,” DeGuire said.

Obama overwhelmingly won Hawaii on Election Day, but DeGuire said the downballot effect was devastating for his party: GOP nominee Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) received only 36 percent of the vote in the House district most favorable to Republicans.

“We do walk a pretty fine line here,” DeGuire said. “It’s tough to knock on Obama here, he’s so well loved.”

It’s unfortunate timing for Aloha State Republicans, who have some of their strongest candidates in decades ready to run for office.

Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou (R) formed a campaign committee in 2007 and started fundraising for a 2010 bid.

Sources say Djou plans to run for the 1st district seat regardless of whether Abercrombie steps aside, but an open seat could be Republicans’ best shot at winning in a generation of politicians.

Djou has planned a trip to Washington, D.C., in February to meet with the national party.

“We have been working with the Hawaii Republican Party and are planning to meet with Mr. Djou during his next trip to Washington in February,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said.

Djou will be term-limited out of the Honolulu City Council next year, and he had raised $122,500 by October for a Congressional run, according to online finance reports.

Although Hawaii is not a very expensive media market, Djou would be hard-pressed to match Abercrombie’s $2.2 million campaign bank account. And all financial considerations aside, Djou’s battle would be easier if Abercrombie stepped down to run for governor in 2010.

According to Abercrombie spokesman Dave Helfert, the 10-term Congressman is considering a gubernatorial bid and actively talking and listening to people while he makes a decision.

“I think anybody’s obvious answer, other than Neil Abercrombie’s, is that he seems to be talking about it,” Hawaii Democratic Party spokesman Chuck Freedman said. “But he hasn’t made a clear statement one way or the other whether he’ll be running for governor or for his 1st Congressional district again.”

Given the deep bench for their party in Hawaii, a bevy of state Democrats are ready and waiting if Abercrombie retires.

Former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) said he would consider running for Abercrombie’s seat if he retires, or for governor if Abercrombie decides to stay put. Case represented Hawaii’s 2nd district for five years until he decided to challenge Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary.

“My thought process is very definitely, ‘Do I contribute at the state level at the governors office, or do I contribute at the federal level in Congress?’” Case said in a December phone interview.

Case has been actively communicating with supporters since he left Congress. Case surveyed his e-mail list in December on whether he should run for governor or Congress. The responses numbered in the thousands, he said, and were split almost evenly between the two offices.

In addition to Case, other Democrats said to be interested in running for Congress include former state House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hanneman, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former state Rep. Brian Schatz.

Hawaii sources said it is more likely that Lingle — the most popular Republican in the state — would challenge Akaka in 2012 instead of running against Inouye in 2010.

“She is right now solely focused on the next two years,” Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said. She has “no plans right now to run for office.”

Nonetheless, Lingle appeared to be trying to raise her national profile last year, including a prominent speaking role at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

A spokesman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Brian Walsh, declined to discuss whether Chairman John Cornyn (R-Texas) had attempted to recruit Lingle to run against Inouye in 2010.

“As a practice, we’re not going to comment on conversations the chairman has with a potential candidate,” Walsh said.

But Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokesman Matthew Miller referred to Inouye’s hold on his seat as “rock solid.”

“Dan Inouye is a legend in Hawaii who has been repeatedly re-elected by his constituents because they know he’s an outstanding Senator,” Miller said.