U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, D-HI

U.S. Senator Daniel Akaka, D-HI

BY JOHN FUND – Yesterday, Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii became the seventh senator to announce he wouldn’t run again in as many weeks. Since five of the retirees so far have been Democrats, Majority Leader Harry Reid has to worry if he can keep control of the body.

If Republicans win the White House in 2012, they will need only three seats to take over with the tie-breaking vote of a friendly vice president. Should Barack Obama be re-elected, the GOP would now need four seats.

Mr. Akaka’s retirement at age 86 almost certainly means Republicans will nominate their most formidable candidate, former Gov. Linda Lingle. Ms Lingle, who left office last year after two terms. She is a moderate who proved popular with Hawaii voters and raised more than $6 million for her 2006 re-election bid — a hefty amount for small Hawaii.

There are no shortage of ambitious Democrats who might take on Ms. Lingle. In a TV interview Sunday, Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye listed several potential successors: U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, Gov. Neil Abercrombie and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann. He also threw in the names of Ed Case, a former congressman who ran against Mr. Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary; and Tammy Duckworth, an official in the Obama Department of Veterans Affairs.

But after rattling off all those names, Mr. Inouye emphasized the importance of avoiding a primary bloodbath, especially since Hawaii’s primary falls in August, or less than three months before the general election.

“Our problem, I think, at this juncture is to try to keep it down to a workable number [of candidates],” he said. “Can you imagine if all six of them or seven of them ran? They’d kill each other.”

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