EXCLUSIVE: Senate president expected to run for Congress

EXCLUSIVE: Senate president expected to run for Congress
Published: Sep. 27, 2013 at 9:36 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 24, 2013 at 5:24 PM HST
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State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim
State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State Senate President Donna Mercado Kim is expected to enter the race for Hawaii's 1st Congressional seat later this year, making her the senior and best known politician running for the seat.

Kim (D-Kapalama, Alewa, Kalihi Valley, Moanalua Valley) has been in the legislature and Honolulu City Council for 31 years, and has been a state senator since 2000.  She became Senate president late last year.

"I'm considering a run for Congress but won't make a decision until later this year," Kim told Hawaii News Now.  Kim declined an on-camera interview.

Sources said she's been consulting people for advice on her run and quietly asking for support in recent weeks.

She would join a growing list of politicians who want to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who's planning to run for the U.S. Senate.

"Now, Kim's pretty clearly the front runner," said Colin Moore, a UH Manoa political science professor. "So this takes a race that was pretty open and now I think you have a candidate to beat."

"I think if she does decide to run, this really changes the race.  You have someone with tremendous name recognition who's the Senate president," Moore added.

State Sen. Will Espero (D-Ewa Beach) is already planning to run for that Congress seat representing urban Oahu and disagreed that Kim is the front runner.

"I think everyone's going to have to look at the candidates on a one-by-one, individual basis. Look at their record, look at their experience, look at their personalities and reputations," Espero said.

Kim and Espero have what are called "safe seats" at the State Capitol.  That means they're not up for re-election next year, so if they lose the Congressional race, they still keep their seats in the State Senate.

State Rep. Mark Takai (D-Aiea) will not run for the State House seat he's held for 19 years and is running for the spot in Congress, meaning he'll be out of a job if he loses.

"It's not someone being anointed to the seat, it has to go before the voters and the voters will decide," Takai said. "Regardless of who's in the race, we believe that our message is the right one and it will get people voting for us."

Kim has more money in her local campaign account than all her potential Congressional opponents combined. East Honolulu City Councilman Stanley Chang has raised more money in his Congressional account than the others at $162,021.

Kim had $278,274 cash on hand in her local account as of late June, compared to Windward City Councilman Ikaika Anderson's $141,297 and Espero's $40,220.

State candidates cannot use money raised for local elections in Congressional campaigns, but they can refund it to donors and have them simply re-donate to their races for Congress.

Congressional candidates must file updates on their finances with the Federal Election Commission by the middle of next month, encompassing fundraising and spending through Sept. 30, the end of the third quarter.

Kathryn Xian, an advocate for women and children who has never held elected office, will formally announce her candidacy for the Congressional seat Monday.

So far, no Republicans have announced plans to run for the seat.

That means the winner of the Democratic primary in August 2014 could eventually become Hawaii's next representative in Congress.

"Here in Hawaii, a very Democratic state, often if you win the Democratic primary, you're likely to win the general election. So whoever wins this primary, even perhaps with 20 percent of the vote, is likely to be the next member of Congress," said Moore, the UH professor.

Espero said, "The more people that do run in this race, the threshold of victory becomes lower.  And thus it's important that all voters do get out and vote."

Moore said the other candidates will have to compete with Kim for name recognition.

"That's something two of the younger candidates, for example Stanley Chang and Ikaika Anderson, will have to gain.  I think that may be the biggest burden for them.  So I think it really changes the race.  I think immediately you have a new front runner," Moore said. "If you're a younger candidate, if you don't have a lot of seniority, then you have to show that you can get endorsements and you can raise money."

Copyright 2013 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.