WASHINGTON — Sen. Daniel Inouye confirmed to Civil Beat Tuesday that he hopes that Rep. Mazie Hirono will defeat former Congressman Ed Case in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate next year.

“This sounds silly to some but I have not used the word ‘endorse,’ so I can say with a straight face that I have not endorsed anyone, but I’m friendly to Mazie,” Inouye said in an interview in his U.S. Capitol office. “I’ve been to her fundraisers.”

Asked if it would be fair to say that he hopes Hirono wins, the senator replied:

”I think so. I’m being honest with you.”

Case and Hirono both want to replace Sen. Daniel Akaka, who announced earlier this year that he will retire in 2012. Case publicly irked Inouye — and caused drama within Hawaii’s Democratic party — when he unsuccessfully challenged Akaka in 2006.

“He knows why I’m not too happy with him,” Inouye said of Case.

On the other hand, Inouye attributes his positive feelings about Hirono to her work ethic.

“She’s a hard worker,” Inouye said. “I mean, she’s the type who prefers performance over words. In this business, what counts would be what you do, not what you say.”

Inouye said he has not donated any money to Hirono’s campaign, but said he has helped forge some political connections for her. For example, Inouye introduced Hirono to Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

The senator’s support is significant not only because of his immense influence in Hawaii but also because it represents another piece falling into place for the Hirono campaign. Already, Hirono has surpassed Case in early fundraising and secured key endorsements from institutions like the Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii’s biggest labor union.

“I try to stay out of it but, after all, I’m a constituent of somebody,” Inouye said. “I’m a voting citizen. I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t have any beliefs or policies or positions.”

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