It’s been rumored for months that Mufi Hannemann is considering a return to politics, either in a run for his old Honolulu City Council seat or the 1st Congressional District seat being vacated by Colleen Hanabusa.

Now the talk is that the former Honolulu mayor may have settled on Congress, a seat that he has sought unsuccessfully three times. The difference this time is that there is a large — and perhaps growing — field in the CD1 hunt.

In that scenario, a candidate with as little as 20 percent of the Democratic primary vote could prevail. That candidate, the thinking goes, could be Mufi.

Hannemann did not return my call Thursday. But I spoke with lots of politically akamai folks who say chatter about Hannemann jumping into the race has only intensified in recent days.

The safer route for him might be to seek Breene Harimoto’s District 8 Council seat, as Harimoto is considering a run for David Ige‘s Aiea-Pearl City state Senate seat. That would position Hannemann for a future run for his old mayoral gig, or to run for governor in 2018 or Congress at some later date.

But he may take another shot at Neil Abercrombie in the 2014 race for governor; Ige is already running against the unpopular incumbent in the Democratic primary.

Some people want Hannemann to stay out of politics altogether. But politics is in his blood, and Congress has to be the most appealing option for him, in part because he has always seen himself as congressional material. There are also no term limits in Congress where his election would represent a sort of personal and professional redemption.

Then again, U.S. representatives have to run every two years. And the House of Boehner is not always the funnest place for Democrats these days. And what if Hannemann runs as a Republican? Ah, the possibilities.

Stellar Résumé

Hannemann is one of the most recognizable figures in Hawaii politics. For one, along with Tulsi Gabbard, he is widely known by his first name.

The former mayor’s stellar résumé includes a Harvard degree, work in Washington, D.C., and time served as chairman of the City Council.

Plenty of people have written Hannemann’s political obituary, including me. (Read Mufi’s Last Chance?, published on the eve of his 2012 loss to Gabbard in the 2nd Congressional District contest.)

But Hannemann didn’t disappear after his humiliating loss to Gabbard. He resumed his oldies radio show and writes a regular column for MidWeek. He riffs on music, food and community on his Facebook page and on his Twitter feed, which is still followed by over a half-million people. On Dec. 2 he gave a birthday shout-out to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a fellow Mormon “who has one of the toughest jobs in DC.”

Like Ed Case, another ambitious local pol who has often fallen short in his bids for higher office, Hannemann is usually able to count on garnering at least 30 percent of the vote in any given contest, including the ones he has lost.

As it stands today, there are six candidates running for the seat Hanabusa is leaving behind in her bid to replace Brian Schatz in the Senate: State Sens. Donna Mercado Kim and Will Espero, state Rep. Mark Takai, Honolulu City Councilmen Ikaika Anderson and Stanley Chang, and community activist Kathryn Xian. Others could still get in the game.

The 2014 campaign for CD1 is shaping up to resemble the 2006 election for CD2. It’s worth revisiting those results:

Candidate Votes Percent
HIRONO, Mazie K. 24,487 20.7%
HANABUSA, Colleen 23,643 20%
MATSUNAGA, Matt 16,001 13.5%
HEE, Clayton 12,649 10.7%
HOOSER, Gary L. 10,730 9.1%
SCHATZ, Brian 8,254 7%
MENOR, Ron 8,030 6.8%
GARCIA, Nestor R. 4,479 3.8%
AIPOALANI, Hanalei Y. 2,688 2.3%
ZUIKER, Joe 1,174 1%

Source: Hawaii Office of Elections

Even in his big loss to Gabbard last year, Hannemann picked up 39,000 votes, which was 33.6 percent in a field of six.

If Hannemann runs for Congress, more candidates become competitive in the race because a smaller slice of the pie could secure victory. Appeals to voters based on characteristics like gender, race and age could become more important for candidates. So could positions on high-profile issues like military spending and same-sex marriage.

This much is certain: If Hannemann runs for office in 2014, he will have to make a decision within the next month or so. Campaign workers and donors need to commit to candidates.

Of course, Hannemann carries a lot of baggage — too much to detail here. But he is also a proven leader who can claim credit for getting Honolulu rail on track. Enough voters might be willing to give him a fresh look.

We’ll know whether they get that opportunity soon enough.

About the Author