By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee plans to back Hawaii U.S. Sen. Brian Schatz in his bid for re-election next year amid a primary challenge from U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Justin Barasky, national press secretary for the campaign committee, told The Associated Press by email that it was notified by Hanabusa that she plans to challenge Schatz.
A spokesman for Hanabusa declined immediate comment.
Schatz’ campaign said in an email statement that he’s working at the moment — not campaigning.
“There’ll be plenty of time to focus on politics once the race actually takes shape,” the email said.
Schatz was appointed to the post in December following the death of longtime U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye. Inouye sent Gov. Neil Abercrombie a letter dated the day of his death saying his last wish was to have Hanabusa appointed to replace him, but Abercrombie picked Schatz instead.
The 2014 race will determine who holds the seat the next two years, the final run of Inouye’s original term. The seat will be up for election again in 2016.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Schatz had $1 million in campaign cash as of March 31, compared with nearly $249,000 for Hanabusa.
A spokeswoman for Emily’s List, a group that raises money for pro-abortion rights women running for Congressional and state office, said it strongly supports Hanabusa.
“Should she make her run official, the Emily’s List community would be thrilled to support another progressive woman leader from Hawaii in the U.S. Senate,” said Marcy Stech, the group’s national press secretary.
Though she won re-election to the House in November, Hanabusa was considered the early frontrunner to replace Inouye because of his letter.
Hanabusa said before Abercrombie made his decision that she could hit the ground running and was qualified for the seat.
She said she and Inouye had talked “for years” about succession but only more recently about sitting down and discussing her preparation for the role.
Abercrombie faced a brief backlash immediately after picking Schatz, with angry comments on his Facebook wall saying the choice was disrespectful to Inouye.
Oskar Garcia can be reached on Twitter at http://twitter.com/oskargarcia