First-term U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele is considering jumping into the governor’s race in a move that would further splinter the Democratic primary and make the race even less predictable.

Political insiders from Honolulu Hale and the State Capitol to the neighbor islands and Washington, D.C., all say Kahele has been contemplating the move, and has checked in with some of his most important political supporters in Hawaii to sound them out.

If Kahele actually takes the plunge, he will join Lt. Gov. Josh Green, former Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and former Hawaii First Lady Vicky Cayetano in the Democratic primary, rounding out an unusually long list of well-known contenders for the office.

Gov. David Ige is in his eighth year as governor and is term limited, which means he will leave office in December.

Rep. Kai Kahele questioned Navy officials in a congressional hearing on Jan. 11, 2022.
U.S. Rep. Kai Kahele is said to be contemplating a run for governor this year. Screenshot: Armed Services/2022

Ige appointed Kahele to the state Senate district representing Hilo in 2016 to succeed state Sen. Gil Kahele, Kai’s father, after the elder Kahele died in office. Kai Kahele went on to win the seat in the 2016 election.

Kahele, 47, then announced in early 2019 he was running for the District 2 congressional seat representing the Neighbor Islands and rural Oahu. Tulsi Gabbard held that seat at the time, but she was launching what would be a long-shot, unsuccessful run for U.S. president.

Kahele’s announcement proved to be a shrewd move — or perhaps a lucky one — as Gabbard announced that fall she would not seek reelection. By then Kahele already had a significant head start in the campaign to replace Gabbard, and he won easily in the fall election of 2020.

Now in his first term in Congress, Kahele is a combat veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a pilot for Hawaiian Airlines and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force, Hawaii Air National Guard.

Kahele did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on his political plans.

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