From left: Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Congressmember-elect Tulsi Gabbard, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz.

HONOLULU — The field of potential successors to Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) is getting crowded.

Inouye, 88, passed away on Dec. 17 while serving his ninth term. Services were held in Washington, D.C. on Dec. 21 and in Honolulu on Dec. 23.

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie must appoint Inouye’s replacement, choosing from three candidates recommended by the Hawaii Democratic Party’s State Central Committee. The deadline to apply was Dec. 24. The governor is expected to make his decision this week so that Hawaii will be fully represented when Congress reconvenes next month.

Two members of Hawaii’s congressional delegation are in contention. In a note to Abercrombie, Inouye said that he wanted Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who was re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives last month, to be his successor.

“These are very difficult and challenging times that we face, and I believe it is even more essential that we have someone who can hit the ground running and do a good job for Hawaii in the senator’s seat,” Hanabusa told Hawaii News Now.

On Dec. 24, Congressmember-elect Tulsi Gabbard announced that she was in the running. A former member of the Honolulu City Council, a former state representative and an Iraq War combat veteran, Gabbard was elected to Congress last month to succeed Rep. Mazie Hirono, who was elected to the Senate.

“In the military, I learned that ‘leadership’ means raising your hand and volunteering for the tough important assignments,” Gabbard said in a statement. “Sen. Inouye did that as a young man, and he inspired a generation of young soldiers like me. Now it is our responsibility to step up, for the good of Hawaii. In that spirit, I place my name into consideration for the seat he filled so ably.”

In a letter signed by leaders of eight national youth organizations, Abercrombie and the Democratic Party leadership were urged to appoint Gabbard. “The millennial generation is arguably the most critical and growing constituency in America. Both political parties should take heed … Yet there are almost no strong voices representing young people in Congress,” they wrote.

“We need to see leaders with a national platform who can speak to this rising generation to continue voting, volunteering, and participating in public service and leadership. It is also logical to replace Sen. Inouye, a veteran with seniority, with a younger veteran who will have many years to accumulate seniority for the State of Hawaii.

“At age 31, Tulsi Gabbard is solidly a member of the millennial generation, and is arguably the most inspiring new elected leader this country has produced. We are impressed to learn of her credentials, inspired by her story, and excited to see her have a larger national platform from which to lead, and to inspire this generation and our nation.”

If either Hanabusa or Gabbard is appointed, Hawaii will have to fill a vacancy in the House.

Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, 40, a former state representative, former chair of the state Democratic Party, and Abercrombie’s running mate in 2010, is seen as a front-runner. His supporters also see his youth as a factor in his favor.

The appointee will have the option of running for the Senate seat in 2014.

The 14 hopefuls also include:

Former Rep. Ed Case, who lost to Rep. Mazie Hirono in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate earlier this year;

Former State Rep. Blake Oshiro, an aide to Abercrombie;

State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, vice president of the State Senate;

State Sen. Will Espero;

State Department of Land and Natural Resources Deputy Director Esther Kiaaina, a former congressional candidate;

Oahu Democrats Chairman Tony Gill.

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