WASHINGTON — State Sen. Kai Kahele keeps racking up major political endorsements in his bid to become Hawaii’s next congressman.

Kahele announced this week that he has the official backing of U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz and Hawaii Congressman Ed Case, whose district includes urban Oahu. He also earned endorsements from state Senate President Ron Kouchi and Vice President Michelle Kidani as well as three former governors — John Waihee, Ben Cayetano and Neil Abercrombie.

Kahele is running for U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard’s seat in Hawaii’s 2nd Congressional District, which represents rural Oahu and the neighbor islands. Gabbard, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination for president, has said she has no intention of running for re-election.

That hasn’t stopped Kahele from running his campaign as if Gabbard was still in the race.

Senator Kai Kahele listens to Chair Stanley Chang during a housing meeting held in the Capitol, room 225.
Hawaii state Sen. Kai Kahele currently has a clear path to Congress. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2020

Kahele raised more than $120,000 in the first three months of 2020 despite the fact he stopped hosting fundraising events in mid-March due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Federal Election Commission records show Kahele has raised more than $840,000 for his congressional campaign between Jan. 1, 2019 and March 31, 2020.

So far no other major candidates have declared they will run for Gabbard’s open seat. Perhaps the most well known outside of Kahele is Brian Evans, a Las Vegas crooner who did a brief stint on the sitcom “Full House.” Evans, a Maui resident, has run for federal office a number of times in Hawaii, including in 2018 as a Republican against Gabbard.

Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Brian Evans ran as a Republican in 2018.

Case said the lack of competition was one of the reasons why he felt comfortable endorsing Kahele. Case also pointed out that he also represented the 2nd Congressional District between 2002 and 2007 and that Kahele, who is from the Big Island, “is committed to the special and unique needs of the Second.”

“I believe he will be my full partner in delivering for Hawaii in Congress,” Case said.

The endorsements weren’t the only news out of the Kahele camp this week.

On Tuesday, the campaign announced he was called up by the Hawaii Air National Guard to help the state with its response to the COVID-19 pandemic that so far has killed at least nine people in the islands. Kahele is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard and has flown a number of combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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