Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
June 7, 2006
POLITICS: Hawaiian Punch
There's been surprisingly little attention paid to Hawaii Senator Daniel Akaka's race for re-election, but wavering Republicans thinking of voting for the Native Hawaiian Government Reorganization Act should consider - in addition to the general distatefulness of supporting an apartheid bill - the potentially beneficial political impact that a defeat of the bill would have in this race. The 81-year-old Akaka is being challenged in a September 23 Democratic primary by 53-year-old Representative Ed Case, who has painted himself as an outsider challenging the Democratic machine:
"Clearly the bunker mentality of the shrinking Democratic status quo in Hawaii has been resistant to my candidacy," Case said. "Can you micromanage voters and spoon-feed them on who should represent them in the Senate? This campaign will be a referendum on what is a broken political culture."
Hawaii races tend to be lightly polled and fly under the national political radar - the Bush-Cheney campaign hastily arranged to send Vice President Cheney to the islands near the end of the campaign when the first poll in months showed Bush within striking distance of Kerry (who still won the heavily Democratic state, albeit by less than 10 points). Hawaii elected a Republican governor, Linda Lingle, in 2002, although her record since then has been mixed, at best.
Case - like Lingle, for that matter, who is also up for re-election in 2006 - supports the Akaka bill, but its defeat in the Senate would be a severe blow to Akaka's efforts to paint his seniority and Senate experience as assets in getting things done (Time Magazine recently labelled him one of America's 5 worst Senators). It's unclear how this race will poll after this vote, and no incumbent Senator has ever lost an election in Hawaii, but a SurveyUSA poll showing a drop in Akaka’s popularity rating from 60 percent to 50 percent in just the last month has to be a concern for Akaka, as well as other polls, which may or may not be reliable:
Three recent polls, including one conducted and made public by Case, show the 53-year-old Case is ahead of Akaka. The other two polls (one done by a Congressional candidate and the other by a non-profit) also show Case is in the lead (one the Big Island by a 2-to-1 margin). However, the challenge for Case is to win the support of enough independent and moderate Democrat voters to make it through the primary election this September.
Would Akaka's defeat open up a safe seat to a possible Republican challenger? Given the state's partisan tilt, that seems a stretch - I'm not sure the GOP even has a candidate (someone feel free to correct me on this) - but a Case victory would be good news nonetheless. Unlike Akaka, he has been willing to support the Bush Administration on the Iraq War, the Patriot Act and other legislation. Chris Bowers of MyDD has labelled the race as the opposite of the Lieberman-Lamont race in Connecticut - here, the "progressive" is the incumbent and the more moderate Democrat is the challenger. (H/t) (There are also Republicans looking to replace Case in the House - former state House Minority Leader Quentin Kawananakoa and state Sen. Bob Hogue.)
GOP Senators shouldn't be lining up to throw a life preserver to one of the most liberal members of the Democratic caucus.