Sunday in Moiliili With Dan

Kimberly Lee/Civil Beat

Only a man as beloved and powerful as Dan Inouye could convince local Democrats to enter a saimin-eating contest.

That's what happened Sunday at Washington Middle School, where electoral candidates Colleen Hanabusa, Lyla Berg, Brian Schatz and Kirk Caldwell gamely used their hashi to eat a bowl as quickly as they could. Even the senior senator and his wife, Irene, participated, with Inouye telling the party faithful how he won a saimin contest (14 bowls in one hour!) in the eighth grade.

(Caldwell, flush in the face from a 5K Cane Haul Run in Waipahu that morning, said he regretted chowing down a bento lunch before the contest. Did he mention that he was born in Waipahu? Yes, he did.)

The official purpose of the Moiliili gathering was to celebrate the community — in this case, the mostly Japanese-American neighborhood where Inouye, who turns 86 next month, grew up. Next to Washington Middle School is Inouye's Zippy's restaurant of choice, where he's known to grind on a Chili Moco and a Nalo Greens Strawberry Salad.

On hand Sunday were 16 Democratic candidates, party officials, a person in a waffle dog costume and lots of keiki wearing hachi maki headbands.

In short, it was a love fest for the Democratic Party of Hawaii, put on by its patriarch.

But the celebration also included business. The Sept. 18 primary, which will end (for now) the political ambitions of most of these candidates, is just four weeks away.

It also came at the end of a week that saw dramatic developments in the governor's race between Neil Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann, including new polling numbers from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser and Hawaii News Now that show the former congressman with a 5 percentage point lead over the former mayor. Polls in the lieutenant governor race and Honolulu mayor contest are expected early this week.

In a year where Democrats are on the run nationally, Inouye aimed to bring his party together before it tears itself apart.

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