WASHINGTON — As Congresswoman Mazie Hirono‘s campaign for U.S. Senate gained momentum this week, her opponent Ed Case came to the nation’s capital and attacked her as a “status quo” candidate.

Hirono and Case, a former congressman, both want to replace Sen. Daniel Akaka, who is not running for re-election in 2012. The same week that Sen. Daniel Inouye revealed to Civil Beat that he wants Hirono to win, Case was in Washington trying to raise money and bolster his campaign.

Case told Civil Beat that he had three fundraisers on the East Coast this week: two in Washington, one in Boston (a fourth event in Washington was a “meet and greet,” not a fundraiser, he said).1 In an interview Thursday afternoon on Capitol Hill, Case spoke matter-of-factly about what he sees as Hirono’s shortcomings, revealing the message he wants voters to get from his campaign.

“Mazie cannot speak to change,” Case said. “She is not an agent of change. Never has been, never will be. And in a change election, you’re going to have change with a ‘D’ or change with an ‘R.’ I want it to be ‘D’ because I believe my party has the better overall answers for this country.”

Case also reiterated the results of a poll that his campaign released in August. The poll found that Case would defeat former Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican who is widely expected to run for the Senate seat, but that Lingle would defeat Hirono.

If the latter scenario sounds eerily familiar, it’s because that’s how the 2002 campaign for Hawaii governor played out. A decade ago, Hirono defeated Case in the Democratic primary but lost to Lingle in the gubernatorial general election. Hirono went on to win the 2nd Congressional District seat after Case gave it up to challenge Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary.

“There are so many parallels,” Case said. “If anybody thinks that this race is not roughly about the same things that happened in ’02, I don’t think they really understand what ’02 was about. Same basic program. Mazie represented the status quo. I represented a change with a ‘D.'”

Case, Hirono Campaign See ‘Status Quo’ in One Another

Despite his directness, the former congressman hasn’t convinced everyone. Before Hirono earned the public support of one of Hawaii’s most influential public figures this week, she picked up a key labor endorsement in September. Perhaps even more important, Hirono far surpassed Case in the first quarter of campaign fundraising.

Case said he wouldn’t speculate about how much money he raised in the three-month fundraising period that ended Sept. 30, but said he’s “comfortable” with how the financial side of campaigning is going.

“I had certain goals and we accomplished those goals,” Case said of the last quarter. “People are contributing to my campaign. It’s still very grassroots-oriented in Hawaii. There are still a lot of people that are contributing. It’s constant. I’ll probably be out fundraising until the end of this campaign.”

The adjective Case most used to describe Hirono was “status quo,” a characterization he’s likely to make repeatedly from now until the August 2012 primary. Asked to respond to Case’s comments, the Hirono campaign threw the “staus quo” criticism back at Case.

“It’s disappointing to see a candidate for US Senate continue a long history of personally attacking fellow Democrats, even after seeing that approach fall short so many times before,” wrote Jadine Nielsen, the Hirono campaign’s finance chair, in a statement emailed to Civil Beat on Thursday. “If that unfortunate habit of Mr. Case’s were to end, Hawaii Democrats would see that as a very welcome change from the status quo.”

It’s not that Case relishes the harsh approach or the aggressive reputation it has earned him, it’s just that he’s “impatient,” he said.

“I don’t like getting into political confrontations but I don’t like problems being swept under the rug,” Case said. “I think we get hurt when we do that. So that’s a misconception that I’m aggressive by nature. I’m not. I’m pretty mellow.”

While Case has argued that Hirono’s campaign has been buoyed by her incumbency, he said he has a key advantage that she doesn’t: proximity to voters.

“She has the advantage of incumbency but I have the advantage of being in Hawaii, going through the communities while she’s here (in Washington),” Case said. “There is a very, very clear distinction between us: I just love to get out there and hit the campaign trail, and I’m not sure she does. Mazie comes out of the world that is, and I come out of a world that is another way to go.”

But Case also comes out of the semi-recent political past. He was one of Hawaii’s representatives in the U.S. House less than a decade ago, and acknowledges that Congress was plenty dysfunctional during his tenure.

“When I was here, Congress was bad enough,” Case said. “In some ways, I thought it couldn’t get worse. I thought maybe it would self-correct but it hasn’t. In terms of what’s going on throughout Hawaii, it’s the same basic themes as the rest of the country: Disgust at Congress, disgust at the status quo, a yearning for change, a yearning for leadership, a yearning for folks who will honestly talk about what we need to do and who will take some risks to solve it. There is a definite yearning for Congress to go in a different direction.”

Case said that he wants bridge the partisan gulf that has heightened tension on Capitol Hill and brought the federal government to the brink of shutting down three times this year.

“When I talk about a change in government, I really am talking about an approach that does not demonize people for their beliefs, that debates the issues openly and honestly, and does try to reach solutions that will work,” Case said. “Just because it’s an ‘R’ or a ‘D’ idea doesn’t mean it’s a good or bad idea. Hirono is the way it is with a ‘D.’ Lingle is change with an ‘R.’ And I’m change with a ‘D.’ What do people want? Those are the three doors.”

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