U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa of Hawaii announced her candidacy for U.S. Senate on Thursday, setting up a primary showdown that almost certainly will be the state's marquee race next year.
The former state lawmaker starting her second term in Congress will be running against fellow Democrat and incumbent U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz, who was appointed to the post after longtime Sen. Daniel Inouye died in December.
Schatz's appointment by Gov. Neil Abercrombie came as a surprise to some in Hawaii, after Inouye wrote the governor just before he died saying his last wish was to have Hanabusa named to replace him.
Hanabusa told The Associated Press on Thursday that voters on the islands didn't have much of a chance to influence Abercrombie's decision.
"Brian was not elected. He was appointed," she said. "And I don't think the people have really had an opportunity to weigh in on who they want to represent them in the United States Senate."
Schatz is a former lieutenant governor who has already stockpiled more than $1 million in campaign cash and more than a dozen endorsements from key groups. Under Hawaii law, Schatz was sworn in immediately after being appointed for a term to last until the state's next election — next year's midterms.
Hawaii's primary is Aug. 9, 2014. The winner between Schatz and Hanabusa would then need to win a general election against a Republican or other opponents, though no other major candidates have declared themselves in the race. The 2014 winner will hold the seat for two years until 2016, the end of Inouye's original term.
Hanabusa's presence in the race gives Schatz a true opponent in a state known to vote heavily Democratic; in an open Senate race last year, Democrat and then-U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono trounced Republican former Gov. Linda Lingle by double digits.
It's the first time voters will directly pick a replacement for Inouye.
"We are going to afford them that opportunity," Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa said that while she disagrees with Abercrombie's pick of Schatz, she acknowledges it was his decision to fill the seat.
"That doesn't then somehow say that Brian is entitled to that seat and that he is an incumbent in the true sense of the word," Hanabusa said.
Schatz' campaign spokesman Bill Meheula said in a statement that the race will be about the kind of future Hawaii wants for its people and next generation.
"We look forward to sharing the Senator's work and vision for Hawaii, and we welcome Rep. Hanabusa to the race," Meheula said.
Earlier Thursday, the campaign announced endorsements of Schatz from the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association and the United Food and Commercial Workers Union.
Hanabusa says Hawaii's delegation became younger after Inouye died and that she has the most experience of any candidate.
Hanabusa says Inouye's letter to Abercrombie endorsing her was a high compliment that came after years of conversations she had with Inouye about succession and the right time for her to move from the House to the Senate.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Schatz had $1 million in campaign cash as of March 31, compared with nearly $249,000 for Hanabusa. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plans to back Schatz.
Hanabusa said she doesn't think her Senate run will cost Democrats a seat in the House.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia