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With a tiny campaign war chest and indications that powerful Democrats wouldn’t support a re-election bid, Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii announced he would step down after his term expires next year.
The 86-year-old Democrat — the only U.S. senator of Native Hawaiian or Chinese ancestry — became on Wednesday the seventh senator to recently decide against running in 2012.
“It was a very difficult decision for me,” he said in a statement. “However, I feel that the end of this Congress is the right time for me to step aside.”
Akaka, the third-oldest member of the Senate, previously said he intended to run again. But his campaign account had just $66,000 in cash on hand at the end of 2010, far short of the amount he’d likely need to organize and mount a successful run at another term.
Democrats hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, including two independents who side with them. But they must defend 21 of the 33 seats on the ballot next year, and face a struggle to retain control.
Former Republican Gov. Linda Lingle, who left office in December, has said she would consider a campaign for the seat, and former U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, who lost re-election in November, also has been mentioned as a possible GOP candidate.
Sen. Patty Murray of Washington, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s chairwoman, said Akaka would be missed. But she added that Democrats will “absolutely” keep the seat.
“With a heavily leaning Democratic electorate and their native son up for re-election as president of the United States, we are confident the people of Hawaii will continue to have two Democrats serving them in the United States Senate,” she said.
Akaka suffered a major defeat in December when he failed to get a full Senate vote on legislation granting Native Hawaiians the right to form their own government. The measure, known as the Akaka bill, had been the senator’s priority for the last 11 years, but its progress has stalled indefinitely.
Then last week, Hawaii’s other senator — Daniel Inouye — said he wouldn’t be able to provide Akaka’s campaign the financial support he has in the past.
Inouye, a powerful force in Democratic circles, gave $300,000 to the DSCC in 2006 to help Akaka defeat a rival for the party nomination, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case.
Inouye said last week that Democrats likely to compete for Akaka’s seat include Case, former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann, U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.
Akaka served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives for 14 years before winning the Senate seat in 1990. His retirement breaks up the chamber’s most senior delegation that used its power to bring billions of federal dollars to the tiny islands.
Inouye, also 86, is the longest-serving living senator, having arrived in the Senate in 1963.
Akaka isn’t suffering from any health issues — he’s retiring to spend time with his wife, daughter and four sons in Hawaii, spokesman Jesse Broder Van Dyke said.
“He would have run a very competitive campaign, but it would have been painful in that it’s not fun to fundraise, to campaign, to give speeches,” Broder Van Dyke said. “He certainly could have done it, but at the end of the day, he’s served the state of Hawaii for over three decades, and he definitely deserves this opportunity to enjoy his work.”
Akaka said he would like to spend time documenting his life and career and serving as a mentor to future political leaders.
“I have always strived to serve the people with much love and aloha, never forgetting my humble beginnings,” he said in the statement. “And it is my hope that they, too, will continue this tradition.”
Copyright © 2011 The Associated Press