Two political analysts said Thursday they doubt Abercrombie will suffer any long-term political damage, chalking up the anger in part to the still-raw emotions surrounding Inouye's death last week. In a letter to Abercrombie dated Dec. 17, the day of his death, Inouye asked that Abercrombie grant his "last wish" and appoint Hanabusa.
Colin Moore, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, said the political benefits for Abercrombie in choosing Schatz outweighed the cost.
Had Hanabusa been selected, there would have been a special election to fill her seat that could have been vulnerable for the Democrats, he said. That point was underscored by the chairman of Hawaii's Republican party, who accused Abercrombie of putting "partisan politics and power ahead of Hawaii's people."
With Schatz, Abercrombie chose someone with whom he has had a good working relationship, while Hanabusa, who was re-elected to a second term in November, can continue to build seniority in the House, Moore said.
Seniority has been the political buzzword here since Inouye's death. Inouye was by far Hawaii's most influential politician and one of the most respected lawmakers in Washington after serving five decades in the Senate. With his death and Akaka's pending retirement, Hawaii will go from having significant pull to one of the most junior delegations in Congress.
Inouye's death also blew open the state's political landscape, leaving it with no real kingmaker. For years, Inouye's endorsement was coveted by candidates and carried weight with voters.
Schatz, in making his pitch to fellow Democrats for the Senate seat, talked about the importance of building seniority "over decades and decades," and said if appointed, he would try to make Senate service his life's work. Schatz will serve until an election in 2014, and has said he will run to try to keep the seat.
Schatz is one of the youngest currently serving senators and is just the sixth senator from Hawaii. Only one of those, Democrat Oren Long, one of Hawaii's first senators, served less than 10 years.
"Realistically, if you're a Democrat in this state and get in office, you can be around for a long time," said political analyst Neal Milner, alluding to the dominance of the party in Hawaii politics.
Moore said part of Hanabusa's disappointment with getting passed over could stem from knowing it would be difficult to mount a strong challenge to Schatz. He said it is hard to see positions on which she differs much from Schatz.
Moore said the possibility of Hanabusa challenging Abercrombie in 2014 was more likely but still a "remote possibility."
Associated Press writer Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.
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