HONOLULU – Sen. Daniel Akaka faces a challenge in Saturday's Democratic primary from a congressman who wants voters to dump the 82-year-old lawmaker in favor of younger blood.
Rep. Ed Case, 53, has used images of Hawaiian surf in his ad campaign, telling voters to "catch a new wave" by electing a younger senator before Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye, also 82, leave office and rob the state of the clout that came with their seniority.
Akaka, who has served 30 years in Congress, has largely ignored Case's calls for new leadership in Washington. Instead, he has highlighted his experience and his consistent votes against the Iraq war.
Two recent polls showed Akaka with a substantial lead among likely Democratic voters, but many people were undecided, and Case could benefit from Republicans and independents who take a Democratic ballot in the open primary.
"Because this is the hot race, you're going to see a lot of crossing over," said University of Hawaii political science professor Ira Rohter. "A lot of them are going to vote for Ed Case because they want to get someone who's less liberal in there."
Akaka held more than a 2-to-1 advantage in fundraising, collecting more than $2 million to Case's $817,000 early this month.
Hawaii has the lowest voter turnout in the nation, with even less participation in primaries. Only 40 percent of 626,000 registered voters cast ballots in the 2004 primary.
Native Hawaiians, who make up about one-eighth of registered voters, were getting an extra push to the polls, with an election-eve rally in front of the Hawaiian royalty's Iolani Palace.
Akaka, a Native Hawaiian himself, planned to personally drum up voters in heavily Hawaiian communities on Election Day. Case is white but had strong multi-ethnic support to win two congressional terms.
The winner faces no serious GOP opposition in the general election, although Republican Gov. Linda Lingle asked voters to nominate motivational speaker Jerry Coffee, who pulled out of the race because of illness. That would enable the party to pick a new candidate for November.
The race for Case's congressional seat developed into a free-for-all, with a dozen experienced candidates seeking the nomination. The primary winner is favored to win the general election, keeping Hawaii's congressional delegation all-Democratic.
Two little-known Democrats are competing to take on Lingle in November, but she is expected to easily win a second term regardless of her challenger. Political newcomer William Aila, a harbormaster, is hoping to upset former state Sen. Randy Iwase.
Election officials planned to use a new form of electronic voting that will leave a paper trail to help verify votes. New touch-screen voting machines are equipped with printers that will display a paper ballot behind a glass window. If there are errors, voters may make changes before casting their ballots.