Burdett Loomis, a University of Kansas political science professor who edited a book about disintegrating civility in the Senate, said Inouye's support of Stevens was a "throwback to the old-boy civility of the 'inner club' Senate."
"The norm has been for senators to stay out of races more than to cross over," Loomis said. But when then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) took the unusual step in 2004 of traveling to South Dakota to aid the ultimately successful GOP campaign to unseat then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.), "you saw even the breakdown of that norm," he said.
Inouye, who won reelection in 2004 with 75% of the vote, is unlikely to be hurt by his support for Stevens, said Jon Goldberg-Hiller, chairman of the political science department at the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
"It is well known here that Inouye and Stevens are personal friends and that they have worked together on many issues, some of which have sometimes angered some constituents," he said, citing Inouye's support for opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling, a Stevens priority.
"Nonetheless," Goldberg-Hiller said, "Inouye has long perpetuated the common cultural belief here that, despite divergent party politics, Hawaii and Alaska may have more to gain by being mutually supportive than by competing."