Hawaii Senate: Open Seat Remains Safe for Now

March 3, 2011 · 2:05 PM EST

At 86 years old, Sen. Daniel Akaka’s (D) retirement isn’t terribly surprising and his timing might be perfect for his party.

Democrats will defend Akaka’s open seat in 2012 while sharing a ballot with Hawaii’s native son, President Barack Obama. In 2008, Obama defeated John McCain 72%-27%. Even though Obama isn’t as popular now as he was back then, there is no reason to believe that the President won’t do extremely well in the Aloha State.

Open Senate seats are a rarity in Hawaii so it’s no surprise a lot of Democrats are mentioned as potential successors to Akaka. Hawaii has only had five U.S. Senators in the 50-year history of the state.

2nd District Cong. Mazie Hirono (D) looks like the most likely candidate, but her colleague, Cong. Colleen Hanabusa (D) is also getting attention even though she was just elected last fall.

Newly-elected Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (D), former Cong. Ed Case (D), Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann are also mentioned. Abercrombie is viewed as less likely since he was just elected. Hannemann lost handily to Abercrombie in last year’s gubernatorial primary.

Daniel Inouye (D), Hawaii’s other Senator, also mentioned former 2006 Illinois congressional candidate/Iraq War veteran/current Veterans Affairs Deputy Assistant Secretary Tammy Duckworth as a potential candidate. She went to high school in Hawaii.

There have been some fierce Democratic primaries in Hawaii in recent years, but with normal primaries, that shouldn’t hurt the party’s nominee too much in the general election.

GOP strategists will take the open-seat opportunity but are not initially brimming with confidence about actually winning the seat.

Virtually all of the attention on the Republican side is on former two-term Gov. Linda Lingle (R). Even before Akaka’s announcement, she had said she’d take a few months to decide what she was going to do.

Former Cong. Charles Djou (R) is also mentioned. He represented the 1st District for part of a term after winning a special election when Abercrombie resigned to focus on his gubernatorial run. Djou won because two credible Democrats (Case and Hanabusa) divided up the Democratic vote and he only needed a plurality to win. One he faced Hanabusa one-on-one last November, Djou lost

Lingle, Djou or any Republican will have a tough time in Hawaii.

According to the 2008 exit polls, only 20 percent of the electorate was Republican, 45% Democratic, and 34% Independents.

Lingle’s candidacy could force Democrats to spend money in the state, but for now, this seat remains Safe for the Democrats.