Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) says that the age of his opponent, Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D), should not be an issue in their competitive Democratic primary, rejecting the notion raised by Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D), who appointed Schatz to the Senate.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

"No. I think that this race should be about our record," Schatz, 41, said in a Monday afternoon interview with The Washington Post when asked whether he agrees with Abercrombie. "There have been various attempts to put words in my mouth and to make this race about various ways to divide our community."

Abercrombie told The Post's Philip Rucker late last year that he felt Hanabusa, 62, was too old to build enough seniority for the influence wielded by late senator Daniel Inouye (D), who steered heaps of federal cash to Hawaii over the years.

"Brian Schatz is 41. Colleen isn’t. She’s in her 60s," Abercrombie said, pointing out that Inouye entered the Senate at age 38.

Hanubusa responded in interview with the Associated Press earlier this month, saying, "What you're saying is, their vote doesn't matter." She added: "It's almost like saying that somebody would be anointed for 40 years."

The race between Hanabusa and Schatz has become the most intense Democratic Senate primary of 2014. Abercrombie appointed Schatz to the Senate in late 2012 to fill Inouye's seat after his death. But Inouye's dying wish was for Hanabusa to replace him. His widow is supporting her candidacy. So is former senator Daniel Akaka (D).

But Schatz has the backing of President Obama, who waded into the contest on Monday. He's also backed by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Schatz is positioning himself to the left of Hanabusa. "I think it's fair to say I'm more progressive in terms of my voting record," he said.

When asked to point to differences in policy, Schatz mentioned his vote against final reauthorization of the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act and his vote for the Ryan-Murray budget framework, among other things, as points of distinction.

Hanabusa's campaign didn't immediately comment when asked about Schatz's remarks.