WASHINGTON — Former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced on Tuesday that he is running for the Democratic nomination to replace Rep. Mazie Hirono in Hawaii’s Second Congressional District. Hirono is leaving her office to run for the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Daniel Akaka will vacate when he retires in 2012.

“I believe I offer the proven leadership and experience, fresh ideas and creative solutions, and track record of bringing people together in the spirit of bipartisanship, that will enable me to serve effectively as Hawai‘i’s representative in Congress,” Hannemann wrote in a statement posted to his website on Tuesday.

Arguably one of Hawaii’s most ambitious politicians, Hannemann has a track record of going after what he wants until he gets it. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1986 and 1990. He also failed in an initial bid for Honolulu mayor before getting elected in 2004 and re-elected in 2008. Despite a crushing defeat in his run for Hawaii governor last year, Hannemann appears well positioned to be a pacesetter in a race against lesser-known congressional candidates.

The Contenders

Hannemann, 57, faces City Council member Tulsi Gabbard, 30, who announced her candidacy in May. Gabbard is decades younger than her opponent but has built up an impressive resume in public service: She was Hawaii’s youngest state representative in 2002, and has been deployed to the Middle East twice with the Hawaii Army National Guard. Her father is longtime state Sen. Mike Gabbard.

In the hours before Hannemann announced his candidacy, Gabbard issued a press release to indicate she had secured “several” union endorsements, an interesting twist given that Hannemann has historically enjoyed strong labor support in his campaigns.

Former state Sen. Gary Hooser, who lost in a bid for lieutenant governor last year, is actively seeking donations for a possible run. Hooser now serves under Gov. Neil Abercrombie as director of the state Office of Environmental Quality Control, and previously served on the Kauai County Council. One of Hooser’s advantages is that he has been a resident of Kauai, in the 2nd Congressional District, for decades. Also, Democratic voters who see socially conservative Hannemann as too right-leaning may gravitate toward the more progressive Hooser.

Still, Hannemann is a savvy and experienced politician with top-notch name recognition. After he lost to Abercrombie in the gubernatorial election last year, the former mayor took a job as president and CEO of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association. His announcement did not make clear whether he would step down from that post to campaign full-time.

Since Akaka announced his retirement in February, Hannemann had been considered one of the likely candidates to enter the congressional fray in 2012. Now that Rep. Colleen Hanabusa announced she is running for re-election in the House instead of making a run for Senate, a run in the Second Congressional district is Hannemann’s best option for winning.

For months, Hannemann has deferred questions about a return to public office, citing the importance of serving Hawaii’s tourism industry and his happiness in the private sector.

“This decision to reenter the public arena did not come quickly or easily,” Hannemann wrote. “At the same time, during my travels throughout the Hawaiian Islands, people have been urging me to ‘get back in the game’ and ‘return to public office.’”

Before he became Honolulu’s mayor in 2005, Hannemann served on the Honolulu City Council for half a decade. He was a member of former Hawaii Gov. John Waihee’s cabinet, serving as director of the Department of Business, Economic Development and Tourism. He was also a special assistant to former Gov. George Ariyoshi and a White House fellow during the Reagan administration.

Most of his professional life has been spent in government but Hannemann taught history and coached basketball at Iolani School, as well as worked as an executive for C. Brewer and Company.

2012 Pieces Falling Into Place

Three key themes emerge in Hannemann’s announcement, and he is likely to amplify them over the course of his campaign:

• The “spirit of bipartisanship,” as Hannemann is more conservative than many of the state’s Democrats. After running a cutthroat gubernatorial campaign that many complained was too negative, Hannemann may also be working to smooth over his aggressive image.

• His adherence to core Democratic priorities, like preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, a critical stance if he is to earn widespread support from voters in one of the bluest states in the nation.

• A connection to the neighbor islands, which is essential because he is seeking to represent them.

Hannemann has remained in the public eye since his failed run for governor last year. In addition to his high-profile job at the helm of the Hawaii Hotel & Lodging Association, Hannemann stays busy in the community. The famously musical Hannemann — callers to the city could once hear him crooning while they waited on hold — hosts a commercial radio show in which he spins favorite tunes from yesteryear (Elvis is high on his list).

Hannemann is active on Twitter, and often posts in the sprit of an elected official: He congratulates local sports teams and offers condolences about the deaths of prominent local figures, for example. (Read a related story about Hannemann’s Twitter persona.)

As the field for 2012 gels, a series of possible dynamics in a quickly changing congressional delegation are emerging. For example, former Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, is expected to run a formidable campaign for Akaka’s Senate seat, though she hasn’t yet announced her candidacy. She would face Democrats Hirono and former Congressman Ed Case, who are battling for their party’s nomination.

Lingle and Hannemann had an icy relationship when they served as governor and Honolulu mayor, respectively. For five years, Hannemann and Lingle sat in executive government offices across Punchbowl Street from one another. It’s conceivable that the two could next be reunited on Capitol Hill.

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