It’s become routine for politicians and reporters to say that each election is the most important election in recent memory.

But the 2012 election may actually fit the bill. The White House and both houses of Congress are up for grabs, and the nation remains mired in war and recession.

As on the mainland, races locally between top Democrats and Republicans are already taking shape. While new candidates could emerge, by and large we already know who is running for the U.S. Senate — Ed Case, Mazie Hirono and probably Linda Lingle — and Hawaii’s 1st Congressional DistrictColleen Hanabusa and Charles Djou.

At least two well-known Democrats are running for the 2nd Congressional District, too — Mufi Hannemann and Tulsi Gabbard — and a third is on the verge of entering the race.

But a Republican has yet to jump in to CD2.

“So far CD2 has been more quiet than any other national race,” said Gene Ward, the state House Minority Leader and a past GOP candidate for CD1.

Announcement Expected

By contrast, there has been an awful lot of noise about the rematch between Democrat Hanabusa and Republican Djou, and the battle between Democrats Case and Hirono to face Republican Lingle.

Jonah Kaauwai, chair of the local GOP, told Civil Beat that his party would field a candidate for CD2, but he declined to say who that might be or when they would announce.

(In a Sept. 15 guest column, Kaauwai said Hawaii Republicans have an “enormous opportunity” in the CD1 and Senate races, but said nothing about CD2.)

Civil Beat granted anonymity to a party strategist with inside knowledge of the GOP because the person would not talk about the “super top secret” candidate otherwise.

An announcement, the strategist said, will likely come before the end of the year, because the candidate will need sufficient time to mount a serious campaign. There is also still the unsettled matter of exactly how the 2011 Reapportionment Commission will redraw the Oahu boundary between CD1 and CD2.

(After public hearings, the commission has until Sept. 26 to file final proposals with the chief elections officer, who then has until Oct. 10 to publish the plans.)

The GOP’s CD2 candidate is described as having name recognition and being a resident of the 2nd District, which covers the neighbor islands and the parts of Oahu that are not Honolulu.

The GOP thinking is that Hannemann is the “anointed candidate” of Democrats. They consider him strong candidate, yet one with deep flaws. The former Honolulu mayor was also crushed in his bid for governor last year, and he lost two previous contests for the U.S. House of Representatives.

Patsy’s Seat, Mazie’s Seat

A Republican has never represented CD2, and the list of Democrats who have held the seat reads like a Who’s Who of progressive liberals: Patsy Mink, Spark Matsunaga, Daniel Akaka, Mazie Hirono. Mink was the first to represent the district.

Recent CD2 match-ups have not been close: Hirono defeated Republicans John Willoughby by 68 percent to 24 percent in 2010, Roger Evans by 70 percent to 19 percent in 2008 and Bob Hogue by 60 percent to 38 percent in 2006.

“This is Patsy’s district, this is Mazie’s district,” said Gary Hooser, a former Kauai lawmaker who lost to Hirono in the 2006 primary. “It deserves a progressive Democrat.”

Hooser thinks both Hannemann and Gabbard are on the “wrong side” of women’s reproductive rights and gay rights.

But the 2nd District has also elected Ed Case, who is socially liberal but more moderate — even conservative — when it comes to fiscal issues and national security.

There are also active Tea Party movements on Maui, Kauai, Oahu and the Big Island. Civil Beat polls during the 2010 election found that about 10 percent of likely voters identified themselves as Tea Partiers.

Still, only one neighbor island Republican — Maui’s George Fontaine — currently serves in the state Legislature. Fontaine is a political newcomer, as is Republican Gil Riviere, who represents Oahu’s North Shore.

One other Republican legislator living in CD2 — Cynthia Thielen — lost a Senate challenge to Akaka in 2006 by 60 percent to 36 percent.

However, Thielen managed to attract more votes than Case did in his primary challenge to Akaka that same year. She was also an emergency candidate, the GOP’s pick to replace primary winner Jerry Coffee (the MidWeek columnist and Vietnam War vet) who had to pull out of the general election for medical reasons.

In My District

Hooser said residency in CD2 might be a factor in 2012.

While Hawaii’s congressional representatives have often lived outside of the district they represent — they include Hirono — Djou elevated the issue in his battles with Hanabusa over CD1 last year.

“It is very important, and long past time, that someone who actually lives in the district be elected to serve the district,” said Hooser, who told Civil Beat he is “seriously considering” running in the Democratic primary and will be filing soon with the Federal Election Commission. “It is especially the case with the 2nd District because of the rural communities.”

Neither Gabbard nor Hannemann lives in the 2nd District, though Hannemann lived for a spell on the Big Island. Mink was from Maui, while Case was born in Hilo and grew up on the Big Island.

CD2 has another Democrat in the race: Esther Kiaana, who does live in the district. While Kiaana has spent much of her adult life in Washington, D.C., she currently resides in Nanakuli on Hawaiian homestead land.

One more Democrat will enter the CD2 race this week: Rafael del Castillo. He ran for Congress twice in 2010 … in the 1st District.

DISCUSSION: *Do you think the GOP has a chance in the 2nd Congressional District race? Join the conversation.

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