For the second time in two elections, Mufi Hannemann is pulling out the big guns to show his large group of powerful backers in the final week of the election.

And for the second straight time, Hannemann’s use of photos with him and Hawaii’s two U.S. Senators — neither of which has endorsed him — has drawn fire from his opponent. Last time, it was Neil Abercrombie. This time, it’s Tulsi Gabbard.

Wednesday’s edition of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser came with a separate ad wrapped around the front of the paper. In this case, it was covered, front and back, with endorsements of Hannemann’s campaign for Congress.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid occupies prime real estate, right below a big, blue quote reading, “I want Mufi on our team.” So does Eugene Takemoto, brother of the late Rep. Patsy Mink. She occupied the seat Hannemann’s seeking, and Takemoto’s endorsement of Hannemann’s bid leads more than a dozen testimonials from community leaders on the reverse side.

Uncontroversial so far. But below the fold on the front is a section with side-by-side photos of Hannemann with Sens. Daniel Akaka and Daniel K. Inouye under a heading that reads “Mufi has extensive experience in Washington D.C., & strong working relationships with leaders on Capitol Hill.” Below the photos is a request from Hannemann — and, by implication, the senators — asking readers to “Please vote in the Democratic Primary on Saturday for HANNEMANN, Mufi.”

A horizontal view of the photos sits atop this article. Here’s a fuller picture of the section in question:

Gabbard’s campaign pounced, issuing a statement accusing Hannemann of creating the “false impression” that he’d been endorsed by Akaka and Inouye.

As Gabbard said, neither senator has endorsed a candidate in the race.

“The Hannemann campaign did not ask Senator Akaka’s permission to use the photo in an advertisement,” Akaka spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said in an email. “The photo is in the public domain so it can be reprinted without permission, but to be clear Senator Akaka is remaining neutral.”

Inouye is also staying above the fray, but his spokesman pointed out that he’s appeared in other photos.

“Senator Inouye’s photo was included in literature put out by both campaigns,” spokesman Peter Boylan said in an email. “Neither campaign needed permission to use the photo as both pictures were pulled from the public domain. Senator Inouye did not endorse a candidate in this race and will support the winner of Saturday’s primary in the general election. He wishes them both the best of luck.”

Gabbard used a picture of her and Inouye in mailers focusing on her military bona fides.

The key difference, her campaign points out, is that the Gabbard-Inouye photo comes with a small-print disclaimer: “Sen. Dan Inouye is remaining neutral in this race.”

Akaka also appears in a military-themed campaign photo for Gabbard that appears on her campaign website:

That photo contains no such disclaimer that Akaka is neutral in the race. Asked if that makes her complaint Wednesday hypocritical, campaign spokesman Jim McCoy said a wraparound ad on the front of the state’s largest newspaper is different than a photo in a carousel on a campaign website. He said the photo with Akaka qualifies as part of Gabbard’s story because she gained key experience working for his Senate office.

“Her work with Sen. Akaka is a big part of her bio, and that photo is a part of her bio,” McCoy said.

Hannemann’s campaign defended its advertisement Wednesday, saying that the photos back up the statement about his extensive Washington D.C. experience because Hannemann has worked closely with leaders “like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Senator Daniel Inouye, and Senator Daniel Akaka, among others on issues like tourism, agriculture, infrastructure funding, and strengthening Hawaii’s economy.”

The campaign also provided videos of Akaka and Inouye saying positive things about Hannemann in the past:

“If elected to Congress, Mufi Hannemann will be able to leverage the strong working relationships he has with leaders on Capitol Hill to hit the ground running for the people of Hawaii,” the campaign said.

A Replay of Hannemann v. Abercrombie

Wednesday’s episode — everything from the use of the senators’ photos to Gabbard’s indignation at their use — is reminiscent of the spat two years ago in the week leading up to the Democratic primary for governor.

Here’s at least part of what the Abercrombie campaign said that day, pulled from Civil Beat’s coverage at the time:

In today’s newspaper, Mufi Hannemann ran an ad that creates the false impression that Senator Inouye and Senator Akaka have endorsed him for Governor. Both senators have said they are remaining neutral in the Democratic primary. It’s yet another political game meant to confuse voters.

And here’s the full Gabbard campaign statement today, which acknowledges the kerfuffle two years ago and borrows liberally from Abercrombie’s statement:

As he did two years ago in the race for governor, Mufi Hannemann today ran an ad that creates the false impression that our two senators are endorsing him for Congress. Both senators have said they are remaining neutral in the primary. This is yet another political game meant to confuse voters. On Saturday the voters will have an opportunity to reject the same-old deceptive politics as usual and choose the fresh leadership that Tulsi represents.

Interestingly, McCoy handled Abercrombie’s media relations team two years ago. His insights into how to beat Hannemann are undoubtedly part of the reason Gabbard hired him.

Could she have predicted Hannemann would try the same move he used two years ago? Could Hannemann have predicted Gabbard would respond the same way did Abercrombie did two years ago?

Will Saturday’s primary provide any further déjà vu?

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