By BECKY BOHRER, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
HONOLULU -- Hawaii Democrats on Wednesday were meeting to pick three names to forward to Gov. Neil Abercrombie as he considers an appointee to replace the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye.
U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and Department of Land and Natural Resources Deputy Director Esther Kiaaina were reportedly chosen as final nominees for an open U.S. Senate seat.
A member of the committee who voted on the names Wednesday confirmed the selections to The Associated Press. The committee member requested anonymity because he was not authorized to release the names.
Hanabusa, Schatz and Kiaaina emerged from a crop of 14 candidates.
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie now has the task of appointing one of the three nominees to the seat held by the late U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, who died last week.
Abercrombie's spokeswoman did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
The committee then met in private to name three finalists, picking the first three candidates who receive majority support from the committee.
Under Hawaii law, Abercrombie gets to make the final selection from the narrowed crop. The state party gets to pick three candidates because Inouye was a Democrat.
Before he died last week, Inouye pushed to be replaced by Hanabusa. He told Abercrombie in a letter it was his last wish.
Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and incoming U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard have also put in for the job, along with several candidates who hold smaller state offices.
The appointee will serve until a general election in 2014, when an election will be held to fill the seat through 2016, the end of Inouye's original term.
Hanabusa, 61, said in a video message played at the meeting that she's honored to have Inouye's support but she also is qualified to assume the seat and hit the ground running.
"Not one of us has any favorable rights to that position," Hanabusa said.
A member of the central committee gave a "Jersey Shore"-style fist pump as Hanabusa was introduced.
Schatz, 40, said that if appointed, he would try to make being a U.S. senator his life's work. Both he and Gabbard, 31, stressed the need to build up seniority over decades.
Gabbard spent part of Christmas Day tweeting and sharing messages of support for her candidacy through her campaign website. Among others, Newark, N.J., mayor Cory Booker said on Twitter that Gabbard should get the appointment.
It's not clear how much weight Abercrombie will give Inouye's letter as he considers his pick. His office has also not given a timetable for the selection, though Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urged he make the selection quickly so the pick can take part in important votes at the end of the year, including legislation on the so-called fiscal cliff crisis.
The meeting included some lighter moments as longshot candidates took turns pleading their cases.
Timothy Hogan, the first candidate to speak, said he was a party faithful who would not run again in 2014. He said he wanted to serve as a "caretaker" for the seat for the party.
A woman who had called into the meeting by phone responded: "What about the seniority of the seat, you idiot," which drew gasps, laughs and calls from the audience to ask those who called in to mute their lines.
Another candidate, Antonio Gimbernat, called in from Maui and described himself as 44 years old, heterosexual, single with no kids and someone who likes to surf and play the ukulele. He said he has been sober for 12 years.
"TMI, dude," responded an audience member in the room.