The last time Ed Case addressed Hawaii Democrats, in May 2010, he received a standing ovation.

But that’s because Case announced he was withdrawing from the primary race for the Hawaii First Congressional District that year.

Case’s shocking decision delighted the party and effectively sent Colleen Hanabusa to Congress. Many said Case had ensured that he still had a political future.

On Saturday, addressing many of the same party delegates, Case fought for that future.

The former congressman said the U.S. House race “paled” in comparison with the contest to replace Daniel Akaka in the U.S. Senate.

“Never in our state’s history has the outcome of a single election determined balance of power in the Senate and the future of our country,” said Case.

He said current predictions nationally have the Senate resulting in a 50-50 split come November — and that’s if Hawaii Democrats defeat the likely Republican nominee, former Gov. Linda Lingle.

“We can make no such assumption,” said Case. “We cannot take the candidacy of Linda Lingle for granted any more than we did in 2002.”

The difference this time, however, is that Lingle’s 2002 election was for at most eight years in office, given that the governorship is term-limited.

The winner of the Senate race, Case argued, will likely represent Hawaii for a generation, as there are no term limits for Congress.

“Think about it — think about it,” Case urged delegates. “You have two good candidates asking for your votes in the primary, but it is your choice. … Think about it, that is all we ask. The stakes are that high.”

Evoking Lincoln

No doubt U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, Case’s primary opponent, will make much the same argument Sunday when she addresses Democrats at their party convention at the Sheraton Waikiki.

(Of note: Case did not actually mention Hirono by name in his speech.)

Hirono may receive a warmer reception than Case, who received respectful applause but saw only a few delegates standing in ovation. She speaks on the same morning that Akaka will be honored by his party, a morning that ends with speeches by party elders Neil Abercrombie and Daniel K. Inouye.

She also appeals to the party’s liberal core more than Case, who has strength among more moderate and independent voters.

But Case’s speech almost didn’t happen, as party officials initially charged candidates $500 a minute to hold candidate rallies. The decision came under heavy criticism, and Case was given five minutes to speak Saturday.

He took at least seven, according to Party Chair Dante Carpenter, and more like nine, according to one reporter’s tape recorder.

After a lame joke about “sleeping with labor” — his wife, Audrey, belongs to an airline flight attendant union — Case drilled into his “high stakes” pitch.

He argued that issues like abortion rights, equal pay for women, environmental regulations and work-safety laws would literally become “a matter of life and death” should Republicans gain control of the Senate.

Social Security and Medicare would be under heavy attack as well: A gutting of the social-safety net would “send millions back into a lifetime of poverty and despair.”

Evoking Lincoln at Gettysburg, Case said the election would decide whether the government moved forward “of the people, by the people, for the people” or “deepen into one by a few and for a few.”

Case said he would be the best candidate to fight for Democratic values of tolerance, equality, compassion and opportunity. Mostly, he strongly suggested, he would be the better candidate to defeat Lingle.

“We will call her out at every turn on the differences in rhetoric and beliefs and actions,” he said. “We will earn the votes she is depending on to win the election.”

Put another way: Case believes he can beat Lingle and Hirono cannot.

Whether a majority of Democrats agree won’t be known, of course, until the primary, now just barely two months away.

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