HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - As more and more Democratic opponents continue to join her in the race for the White House, U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) will head into the 2020 election with another challenger to worry about — one vying for her seat in Congress instead of challenging her for the presidency.
State Senator Kai Kahele, a Hawaii Island-native who represents the town of Hilo, announced on Monday his intention to challenge Gabbard in the 2nd Congressional District.
“This is not about Tulsi versus Kai,” said Kahele. “I respect Tulsi and she’s made her decision to run for president. But Hawaii’s challenges don’t stop.”
Kahele made his formal announcement at the Mooheau Park Bandstand in his hometown of Hilo.
The 44-year-old combat veteran and pilot was appointed to the Hawaii Senate in February 2016 after the death of his father, the late State Senator Gil Kahele, and easily won reelection.
“We need passion and compassion. We need courage and collaboration. We need commitment and humility. We need elected leaders working together, leaders who put the common interests of Hawaii’s people ahead of their own,” said Kahele.
Kahele says his priorities in Washington would include equality, medicare for all, and combating climate change.
Gabbard, by law, is allowed to run for both president and congress in 2020.
She hasn’t commented on if she’ll try to keep her house seat, just in case.
But if she does, Hawaii News Now’s political analyst Colin Moore says Kahele would be the toughest opponent Gabbard has faced since her election to Congress.
“(Kai) is a good communicator. He has a great story. He’s the sort of person that voters will be able to connect with,” Moore said.
Moore added Gabbard will have challenges balancing time and resources with two different races, but he believes she’s still the clear favorite for Congress at this time.
“She has tremendous name recognition. She’s one of the most popular politicians in the state, and a lot of voters do like her independent nature,” said Moore.
Kahele says he will not resign from his state senate seat to run for Congress.
His announcement comes as Gabbard continues damage control for her past positions on LGBT issues.
Gabbard said she was going to make her formal announcment for president last week, but that never happened.
In a statement issued Monday, Gabbard sent her best wishes to Kahele and his family.