By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) - Campaigning ahead of an election for Tokyo governor kicked off on Thursday, with candidates vying to save the city's reputation as host of the 2020 Summer Olympics after the previous two governors quit due to money scandals.

The June resignation of Yoichi Masuzoe, the second governor to quit after Tokyo won hosting rights in 2013, came just as the Japanese capital ramped up preparations to host the games with barely four years left.

The July 31 poll pits Japan's first female defense minister against a competent but colorless ex-bureaucrat backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling party and a well-known liberal journalist supported by four opposition parties, along with a slate of less-known candidates.


Though the sprawling city of some 13.5 million must deal with an aging society and preparations for a possible earthquake many say is overdue, a major topic at a Tuesday news conference was the Olympics, which Japan hopes to use as a driver for its sluggish economy.

One of the first duties of the new governor will be to accept the Olympic flag in Rio de Janeiro.

"Politics and money, a very old problem, arose again, leaving Tokyo leaderless at a time when it faces many issues," said candidate Hiroya Masuda, a former cabinet minister backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

"The first growth strategy I wish to promote is the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. We have stumbled just at the start and need to speed up our preparations."

Yuriko Koike, a former defense and environment minister also running for governor, said the ballooning financial burden of the games, and who will bear it, must be clarified.

"The Olympics are right in front of us. I want to use them as a chance to build a new Tokyo for beyond 2020," she added.

Political commentator Atsuo Ito said the poll may also be one of the first indications of how voters feel after Sunday's upper house election, which gave Abe's coalition and allies the two-thirds majority needed to revise the nation's pacifist constitution, a controversial move.

"It's not quite like the UK (Brexit) referendum, but I think a lot of people are annoyed with the result - and this is the first chance to measure their feelings," he said.

(Editing by Nick Macfie)

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