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Hanabusa congratulated Schatz in a statement.

“Having served as chair of the Hawaii Senate Judiciary Committee when the succession law was passed, I fully respect the process and the governor’s right to appoint a successor,” she said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had urged Abercrombie to name Inouye’s successor before the end of the year. Schatz said he will be prepared to be sworn in on Thursday. That would make him Hawaii’s senior senator heading into the new Congress, which begins Jan. 3.

Sen. Daniel Akaka is retiring at the end of this Congress, after 22 years in the Senate. Democratic Rep. Mazie Hirono was elected in November to succeed him.

Schatz, 40, is a former state representative and a former chairman of the state Democratic Party. He also was a leader of President Barack Obama’s campaign in Hawaii in 2008.

Even before winning the 2010 general election, Abercrombie expressed faith in Schatz, saying he would put him in charge of attracting more private and federal investment in Hawaii. Other responsibilities included leading the state’s clean energy efforts and Asia-Pacific relations.

In making his case before the party’s central committee earlier Wednesday, Schatz said that if he was appointed, he would strive to make serving in the Senate his life’s work.

First in line to replace Schatz as lieutenant governor is Senate President Shan Tsutsui, who said he planned to discuss the prospect with his family before deciding.