(CNN) - One day after Democratic Sen. Daniel Akaka of Hawaii announced he would not run for re-election next year, two of the top non-partisan political handicappers say that as of now, the seat remains safe for the Democrats.
Akaka, who's served in the Senate since 1990, announced Wednesday that he would not run for a fourth full term in 2012. He becomes the fifth Democratic senator so far this cycle to announce they would not run for re-election in 2012.
The Democrats have a 53 to 47 majority in the Senate and will have to defend 23 seats next November (21 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the party), while the GOP only has to defend 10 seats.
But Hawaii is considered a tough pickup for the Republicans. Democrats enjoy a large advantage in voter registration, and whoever is the party's Senate nominee will appear on the ballot next November alongside President Barack Obama, a hometown hero.
But the Republicans do have some advantages, starting with Linda Lingle. The Republican former governor is still quite popular in the state and if she were the GOP nominee, the contest could be competitive.
Talking about competitive, a number of Democrats may make a bid for the nomination. Among those mentioned are congresswomen Mazie Hirono and Colleen Hanabusa, former Rep. Ed Case, newly-elected Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz, and former Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannenmann. A divisive late primary next year could hurt the Democrats in the general election.
"Lingle's candidacy could force Democrats to spend money in the state, but for now, this seat remains Safe for the Democrats," says the Rothenberg Report.
"Until the candidate fields on both sides become clear, the race will stay in the Solid Democratic column, but a Lingle candidacy would force a move to a more competitive rating," says Cook Report Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy.
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