When Mufi Hannemann first ran for the U.S. Congress — in 1986 — Tulsi Gabbard was just 5 years old.

Hannemann, 58, is running a third time for Congress this year. But polls show he’s in a tight race with the Honolulu Council member and former legislator, who is just 31.

Hannemann is not the only candidate in their late 50s or early 60s running for high office in 2012. Contests for the U.S. House and Senate and Honolulu mayor are dominated by major political figures of that generation seeking to advance their careers.

Call them Generation Dan — a crop of leaders that have been waiting in the wings until either Daniel K. Inouye or Daniel Akaka leaves office.

Younger Generation on Their Heels

Hawaii’s senior senators will both turn 88 years old this September. Because of good genes, a generous Senate health care package and having never lost re-election, there hasn’t been an opening for a new senator in more than a generation.

That’s kept many Senate wannabes waiting — like Prince Charles, 63, wondering if he’ll ever succeed Queen Elizabeth, 86.

Of course, Ed Case tried to elbow his way in in 2006 but was soundly defeated by Akaka.

With Akaka’s retirement announcement last year, however, the gates opened. Case, 59, faces Mazie Hirono, 64; the winner will take on Linda Lingle, 59. (Lingle faces John Carroll, 82, in the Republican primary.)

With Hirono leaving her 2nd District House post to run for Senate, Hannemann and Gabbard quickly set their sights on her seat. The House race also features fellow Democrats Esther Kiaaina, 49, and Bob Marx, 63.

Over in the 1st District, meantime, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, 61, has a rematch with Charles Djou, 41.

The Gabbard-Djou generation ranges from people in their early 30s to their early 40s. It includes Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, 39, and former legislator and LG candidate Lynn Finnegan, 41. Both are said to have their eye on higher office.

Another one to watch is Big Island Mayor Billy Kenoi, who is 43. He’s running against former mayor Harry Kim, 72.

Speaking of mayor, Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle and former acting mayor Kirk Caldwell are both 59. They are running against former Gov. Ben Cayetano, 72, who is two years younger than his buddy, Gov. Neil Abercrombie.

For Case, Lingle, Hirono, Hanabusa, Hannemann, Caldwell and Carlisle — the most prominent members of Generation Dan — 2012 may be their last, best hurrah. For those that lose this year, it could be tough going in future elections with younger candidates wanting their turn.

That has to be hard to take, given that Dan Inouye was Brian Schatz’s age when he was first elected to the Senate.

Akaka was 66, but he was appointed to the seat upon the death of Spark Matsunaga; Akaka had already served 13 years in the U.S. House, making him eminently qualified.

The next best chance for Generation Dan is to replace Inouye when he leaves office. But then, Hawaii’s senior senator, who has already said he will seek re-election in 2016, told party delegates at the state convention in May that he may live to be more than 100.

By that time, Generation Dan members will be the age Cayetano and Abercrombie are right now. But Schatz, Gabbard, Djou et al will still be younger than Generation Dan is today.

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