Eight people are officially vying for the open seat in Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District, but most political observers agree the focus is on Mufi Hannemann and Tulsi Gabbard, the leading Democratic candidates.
"The Democratic primary is the election," said political scientist Neal Milner.
Six Democrats and two Republicans are competing for the seat being vacated by Mazie Hirono, who is now running for the Senate.
The district covers rural Oahu and the neighbor islands.
Hannemann and Gabbard are the best known Democrats in a field that includes former Office of Hawaiian Affairs Chief Advocate Esther Kia‘aina, Hilo attorney Bob Marx, Honolulu attorney Rafael del Castillo and Miles Shiratori of Kaneohe.
Republicans include retired Navy officer Matthew DiGeronimo and activist Kawika Crowley of Hilo.
"Matt and Kawika are not well-known, even though they are solid candidates," said David Chang, state GOP chairman. "They have great ideas, so it's just a matter of connecting voters to who these people are, their ideas and how they want to lead our country. They're trying to get their names out and really presenting voters with a choice at the general election, which is very important for everybody in Hawaii."
Early polls indicated Hannemann is the best known. He is a former member of the City Council, and was Honolulu mayor for six years before resigning in 2010 to run for governor. He lost that campaign by 22 points to Gov. Neil Abercrombie in the Democratic primary.
Hannemann bills himself as the candidate with "experience that counts," and touts a long list of business and labor endorsements.
"There's a real concern that we need to send someone who can hit the ground running, who doesn't require on-the-job training, someone who has had experience working in Washington, D.C., at a very substantive level and most importantly has had a track record of bringing results," said Hannemann, 57.
His Washington experience includes a stint in the Interior Department in the Carter administration and a White House fellowship under Vice President George H.W. Bush.
The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the Hawaii State Teachers Association have endorsed him.
Gabbard, 31, campaigns on a slogan of "fresh leadership" and says she is working hard to get her name out.
"The people of Hawaii and our country need and deserve fresh, effective leadership — leaders who are ready to put aside their own personal interest to really fight for our people and fight for our country and who will take a stand to end politics as usual," Gabbard said.
Although Gabbard may have had problems with name recognition at the start of her campaign, ads and a "compelling narrative" about her personal history have helped raise her profile, said Milner, professor emeritus of political science at the University of Hawaii.
A captain in the Army National Guard, she first won elected office in 2002 as the youngest member of the state House, but stepped down after just two years to serve with her unit in Iraq. She put in a second tour in Kuwait before returning to run for office again in 2010.
"I think what has happened is that she has become much more well-known," Milner said. "When people get to know her, they tend to think positively of her."
Gabbard counts Emily's List, the national political group that seeks to elect women to higher office, and VoteVets.org, a group that helps war veterans in federal races, among her endorsements.
Both Hannemann and Gabbard have earned a fair share of campaign cash. As of the last federal reporting deadline at the end of March, Hannemann led all candidates with $789,000 raised overall and $631,000 in cash on hand. Gabbard was next with $571,000 overall and $465,000 in reserve.
Milner said he expects the dynamics of the race to change as both draw on their campaign funds with a focus on the Aug. 11 primary.
"What (Hannemann) has done in the past is essentially say, ‘There's a juggernaut going, it's for me and I'm going to win and there really isn't any serious competition in the race,'" Milner said. "He's not going to be able to treat this as kind of aloof and ‘Remember me, I'm a good kind of person.'
"I think he's likely to spend more money in the media. It's more likely to be critical of her and he's going to try to do things that will frame her in ways that are not so positive."
Like most other races, the campaign is likely to focus on the economy, job creation, holding the line on taxes and improving the quality of life for middle- class families.
Hannemann emphasizes his executive experience in running the city and his work with the U.S. Conference of Mayors and with members of the congressional delegation to get federal funds for projects such as the city's planned rail system and last year's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
"It's more than just saying you're sending a new person there to break through the gridlock — that ain't gonna happen," Hannemann said.
"What you need is somebody who has established relationships and alliances that can help foster and bring about good results for the state of Hawaii."
Gabbard has sought to get in front on at least one issue: ending the military campaign in Afghanistan.
"A major priority of mine that is very connected with the day-to-day challenges that people face," she says, "is ending the war in Afghanistan now and bringing our troops home as quickly and safely as possible so that the $2.5 billion a week that we're spending there can be invested here at home … to create new jobs, invest in our infrastructure and really rebuild our communities here at home."