Democratic morale won’t be improved by the retirement of the octogenarian Senator Daniel Akaka, the fifth Democratic-aligned Senator to announce that he will leave the chamber after his current term expires. But Democrats are clear favorites to hold his seat.
Barack Obama, who was born in Honolulu, won Hawaii by 45 points in 2008 — by far his largest margin in any of the 50 states. And his approval rating there averaged 65.9 percent in 2010, according to Gallup, which is also the highest figure in the country.
Even in 2010 — a very difficult year for Democrats nationally and one in which Mr. Obama was not on the ballot — Democrats performed well in Hawaii, winning the gubernatorial race by 17 points. They also won both of the races for the U.S. House, including one in which they defeated the Republican incumbent, Charles K. Djou, who had been elected last May in an unusual special election in which two Democratic candidates split the vote.
With the sort of coattails that Mr. Obama figures to bring, however, Republicans will have an even tougher hand to play, and it would take an extraordinary candidate to overcome the partisan gravity of the state.
One potential Republican candidate, former Gov. Linda Lingle, might once have met that description. However, a survey in October for the Honolulu Star-Advertiser found that her approval rating, which had once been as high as 73 percent, had slipped to 44 percent as she was preparing to leave office.
Instead, Mr. Djou — who took 47 percent of the vote in state’s 1st Congressional District despite losing his seat in Congress — might have the better chance of pulling off the upset.
In a sense, Mr. Akaka’s retirement is timed fortuitously for Democrats. Although Hawaii has long been a Democratic-leaning state, it is likely to be especially so for the duration of Mr. Obama’s presidential tenure. And once Hawaiians are elected to the Senate, they tend to be hard to defeat: the state has had just 5 senators in its 52-year history.