Barack Obama jumped into the contested Democratic primary for U.S Senate on Monday endorsing incumbent Brian Schatz, who is facing a spirited challenge from Rep. Colleen Hanabusa.
Schatz, the Aloha State's 41-year-old former Lieutenant Governor was appointed to the Senate by Governor Neil Abercrombie in December 2012 after the death of Daniel Inouye, who had held the seat for 49 years. The appointment was controversial. Inouye had long groomed Hanabusa to replace him and it was his dying request that she be appointed. The decision opened racial fault lines within the minority-majority state; Schatz was the first white man to represent Hawaii in the Senate since the Kennedy adminstration.
While much of the state's political establishment has rallied around the more moderate Hanabusa, Schatz has received the backing of major labor and enviromental groups. In addition, in a state that is heavily reliant on federal spending, Schatz is more than two decades younger than Hanabusa and, as an incumbent, already has a leg up in accquiring crucial seniority. There also is a political divide dating to 2008. Schatz backed Obama, a native of Hawaii, while Hanabusa was a Hillary Clinton supporter.
In a statement, Obama said:
"I have worked with Sen. Schatz on the issues that matter to Hawaii. Brian's deep commitment to the people of Hawaii and his effective leadership are why I believe it is important to return him to the Senate. Sen. Schatz is protecting Hawaii's values and fighting every day on behalf of middle-class families. There is no question that Sen. Schatz is the right choice to continue delivering for Hawaii."