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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Case in position as future candidate

By Jerry Burris

Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case stunned his Democratic Party colleagues and did some good for his tarnished reputation within the party last weekend with his announcement that he will not pursue a campaign for Congress this year.

Case received lei from his erstwhile opponent, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, and both literal and figurative hugs from many party elders for his gesture. But why did he do this?

The overwhelming consensus among the political chattering classes (and within the national Democratic Party itself) had been that Case had the better shot against special election winner Charles Djou when the regular election rolls around. Djou won the special election to fill out the term of Democrat Neil Abercrombie, in part because Case and Hanabusa split the Democratic vote in the winner-take-all race.

The theory was that the best way to beat the conservative Djou was to be enough like him to attract moderates and independents. Case, a "blue dog" Democrat during his time in Congress, fit the bill. By contrast, Hanabusa is strongly pro-labor, has a liberal voting record and was backed by most of the party establishment.

The best guess is that Case was simply tired of being beat up by the party establishment that had no use for his independent ways. He mightily irritated party elders when he ran for the remaining days of the late Patsy Mink's term in Congress when the move was on to let her husband, John, fill out the term. Then he compounded the insult in 2006 when he challenged beloved Sen. Dan Akaka.

No less a personage than senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye made it quite clear that he did not appreciate, nor would he support, any such impertinence. So to continue in this contest would be a fool's game. Or, as Case put it: His "heart" said go on, but his "head" said withdraw.

As a practical matter, Case has positioned himself nicely as the political seasons unfold in the next several years. If Hanabusa beats Djou for the next two-year term in the House, Case can begin focusing on the Senate toward the day when either Inouye or Akaka inevitably leaves. That might not be tomorrow, but in the political world, years are like days.

If Hanabusa should lose to Djou, Case almost by default earns the right to challenge Djou in 2012.

So this is hardly a case of "I've had it, I'm out of here." Rather it is a canny strategy that gives Case and his supporters a chance to regroup and to let the body politic move more forcefully in the direction he obviously believes it is already going.