Rep. Neil Abercrombie has made it official. The Hawaii Democrat, who has held his House seat since 1991 and who has made it clear for months that he is running for governor, announced that he will quit Congress on Feb. 28 to focus on the campaign.
Honolulu Advertiser's Derrick DePledge reports that the state is leaning towards having a special election in May, perhaps May 1. And because of budgetary issues, there is interest in having an all-mail special election. If election officials fail to agree on this, the special could be put off until the regularly scheduled primary, on Sept. 18. But the betting is that it will be held in May.
There is no shortage of candidates to replace Abercrombie. Former Rep. Ed Case, who represented Hawaii's other House seat until he gave it up in 2006 for an ill-advised primary challenge to Sen. Dan Akaka, is seeking a comeback, along with state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D) and Honolulu City Councilmember Charles Djou (R). Republicans are not thought to be competitive here; Abercrombie usually wins without breaking a sweat. But a nasty Democratic primary could lift GOP hopes.
Meanwhile, in the race for governor, Abercrombie and Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann are considered the top Democrats. Their contest has already been personal and testy. And there's history involved here as well.
Back in 1986, when Rep. Cecil Heftel (D) resigned his congressional seat to run for governor, both Abercrombie and Hannemann ran against each other to succeed him. There were two elections on the ballot that September day: the special election (for the remainder of Heftel's term) and the primaries for the seat that would begin in January of '87. Abercrombie won the special election but LOST the primary to Hannemann. So while Abercrombie would go on to serve all of three-plus months in Congress, he failed in his bid to extend his term by losing the primary. Hannemann, the Democratic nominee that year, lost to Republican Pat Saiki in November.
Both Abercrombie and Hannemann returned to the congressional arena in 1990, but this time not against each other. Following the death of Sen. Spark Matsunaga (D), Hawaii's two House members — Saiki and Akaka — jumped into the special 1990 Senate race, which Akaka won. That left two open House seats. Abercrombie won in the First District; Hannemann ran in the Second, but narrowly lost to Patsy Mink (D), herself a former member of Congress seeking a comeback.
Ok, tell the truth, did I make all that unnecessarily confusing?
On the Republican side, with two-term incumbent Linda Lingle (R) ineligible to run again, the party has rallied behind Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona as their gubernatorial candidate.
Meanwhile, another congressman who has said he will resign has done so. Rep. Robert Wexler (D-FL 19), a seven-term congressman in a safe Democratic district (Boca Raton/part Broward & part Palm Beach counties), quit on Jan. 3 to become president of the Center for Middle East Peace. There will be a special primary on Feb. 2 and a special election on April 13. Favored to succeed Wexler is state Sen. Ted Deutch, though others are running.