A subtext in Rep. Colleen Hanabusa’s race against Sen. Brian Schatz is the fact that the revered Sen. Daniel Inouye had wanted Hanabusa to take his seat.

Inouye made his wishes known before his passing, but Gov. Neil Abercrombie tabbed Schatz instead. This morning, Inouye’s widow, Irene Hirano Inouye, publicly backed Hanabusa and cited her husband’s memory.

“Colleen is an experienced legislator who has the skill set and passion to represent Hawaii and will deliver for people the way Dan did for over 50 years,” she said in a statement. 

“Shortly after she was elected President of the Hawaii State Senate, Dan recognized that Colleen was more than capable of succeeding him and he began to mentor her. His last wish was that Colleen serve out his term because he was confident in her ability to step into the Senate and immediately help Hawaii. I am honoring one of his last requests, and look forward to supporting Colleen on the campaign trail,” she said.

The endorsement is an uncomfortable one for Schatz to respond to, which he acknowledged in the statement he released this morning:

“I realize it may be unusual to comment on an opponent’s endorsement, but I have great respect for Irene Inouye and her husband’s legacy to Hawaii. When news of Rep. Hanabusa’s candidacy broke over a week ago, I phoned Mrs. Inouye to express my respect for her and the late Senator. Mrs. Inouye very graciously informed me she would be supporting Rep. Hanabusa’s candidacy. I told Mrs. Inouye that I understood her decision, and assured her that, as Hawaii’s Senator, I will continue doing everything in my power to honor Sen. Inouye’s memory and accomplishments. As for my work in the U.S. Senate and on this campaign, I will continue to focus on building an even stronger, more prosperous future for Hawaii,  and do so grounded in our state’s unique and time-honored traditions.”

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— Kery Murakami