Special Election Highlights

Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-HI)

The late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii)

Much political news and speculation continues to unfold in places where Senate replacement appointments and congressional special elections will soon occur. With a South Carolina Senate appointment just being made that will lead to a congressional special election, another state with a new vacancy, Hawaii, may be following a similar path. Finally, a new development in the IL-2 House special could have a major impact upon that particular election.


Sen. Daniel Inouye’s (D-Hawaii) death on Monday is leading to conjecture about who will be named as the 50-year senatorial leader’s replacement, but the late lawmaker may already have cleared a path for one of his colleagues.

In a letter to Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) and verified in a final conversation before the senator’s passing, it is clear that Sen. Inouye’s choice to succeed him is Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI-1).

Under state election law, the 76-member governing committee of the Hawaii Democratic Party will make a recommendation of three individuals to the governor. The law stipulates that the replacement selection must be a member of the same party as the legislator who vacated the seat, and the governor must choose one of the three people who the party officially recommends. Considering Inouye’s wishes as expressed in his final letter, it now becomes a virtual certainty that Hanabusa will become one of the party’s three recommendation suggestions, thus giving her a strong chance of being appointed.

But her selection is likely to draw some questioning within the party ranks. Because Hawaii holds only a one-ballot vote in their special election cycle, the Republicans have a good chance of winning a race featuring a crowded field of candidates. This very scenario occurred in 2010 when then-Rep. Abercrombie resigned his seat to concentrate full time on his gubernatorial campaign. Taking advantage of the Democratic vote being split several ways, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou won the special election, taking just 39.4 percent of the vote. Then-state Sen. Hanabusa finished second with 30.8 percent. Djou then went onto lose the 2010 regular election to Hanabusa, 44-50 percent. He attempted a comeback in 2012, losing this time 44-53 percent.

The names for an open 1st District special election are familiar ones. Beside Djou, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz (D) – whose name is also likely to be one of the three that goes to Abercrombie for the senatorial appointment – and former Honolulu mayor and defeated congressional candidate Mufi Hannemann (D) are strong possibilities to run. Another person who can’t be dismissed from entering the contest is former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI-2), who served two terms in the House before challenging retiring Sen. Daniel Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary. Case ran in the 1st District special election of 2010, finishing third behind Djou and Hanabusa. So, the more things change in Hawaii politics, the more they stay the same.

Democratic Party leaders indicate that they will convene their governing board between Christmas and New Year’s to place the three names on Abercrombie’s list. This would then give the governor time to make the appointment so the new senator can take the oath of office on the first day of the new Congress (Jan. 3) along with the other new incoming senators.

South Carolina

Likewise, South Carolina officials are working to ensure that senator-designee Tim Scott (R-SC-1) also will take the oath of office Jan. 3. This will initiate a special election for his soon-to-be vacated 1st Congressional District, a region that begins in the southeastern tip of the state, encompassing Hilton Head Island and the city of Beaufort, and then traveling northeast to take a portion of Charleston before jutting northward to grab Summerville, Ladson, and Goose Creek, and then continuing up the coastline through the Isle of Palms and Mt. Pleasant all the way to the Cape Roman Harbor region.

A slew of names has already been amassed, suggesting that what appears to be a March primary will be jam-packed with candidates on both sides of the political spectrum. Two of the prospective contenders have famous fathers. For the Democrats, Teddy Turner, son of flamboyant businessman Ted Turner, is said to be seriously weighing becoming a candidate, as is Paul Thurmond, son of the late Sen. Strom Thurmond. It was the younger Thurmond who Scott easily defeated in the 2010 Republican congressional run-off. Both former Gov. Mark Sanford and his estranged ex-First Lady Jenny Sanford are said to be “studying” their prospects of becoming candidates.

Expect the special general to be held in April, with the eventual Republican nominee becoming the prohibitive favorite.


The Cook County Democratic Party officially met to endorse a candidate in the special election to replace resigned-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. (D). The meeting ended in a rather surprising fashion, with no candidate being able to gain the committee’s official support. In a machine political town like Chicago, the fact that the party could not agree on an anointed successor is a significant occurrence, meaning the Democratic primary could actually become a wide open, close affair with no clear front runner.

The primary election is scheduled for Feb. 26, with the special general slated for April 9.

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