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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Race for Congress heating up all over

By Jerry Burris

That special election for Congress headlined by Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case and Republican Charles Djou is supposed to be taking place in Hawai'i's 1st District (urban Honolulu).

But it you weren't watching closely, you might think the campaign was in Washington, D.C. That's where much of the action seems to be taking place. Both the Democratic and Republican national campaign committees have been firing off increasingly heated memos on the race, accusing candidates of misleading the voters or even of outright dishonest campaigning.

Republicans are tsk-tsking about all the national money being poured into efforts by outsiders to discredit or damage the campaign of GOP candidate Djou and in so doing boost Democratic prospects.

Meanwhile, memos from the Democratic campaign committee in Washington are drilling into Djou's record, attempting to paint him as an anti-spending right wing ideologue.

All this might be a little funny if it weren't so serious. The special election to fill the seat left vacant by Democrat Neil Abercrombie's resignation to run for governor will be held in May, mostly through mail-in ballots. The election ends on May 22 and results will be released shortly thereafter.

It is widely expected that the winner of this race will have a strong headwind going into the regular election this fall, when the office (and likely most of the candidates we see this round) will be back on the ballot. That's not necessarily true, of course. Abercrombie won the special election the last time this happened, but failed to win his party's primary in the regular election.

Nevertheless ...

The intense interest of the national parties, most unusual for Hawai'i, is an indication of how close things are in Washington. One vote here or there can make a big difference. Republicans, particularly, are licking their chops because it would be a huge PR victory to win a GOP seat in a traditionally Democratic state and in the home state of President Obama, to boot.

Democrats are offering voters a nice choice between the generally more liberal Hanabusa and the somewhat more conservative Case. But this could be a problem, if the two split the vote (throw in another handful of votes going to other lesser-known candidates) and then Djou slips though the middle in this winner-take-all contest.

In all this, some have wondered why there has not been more of a visible presence for the GOP's most prominent figure, Gov. Linda Lingle. Getting a Republican elected to Congress would be a major feather in her cap.

It's true that Lingle has not been very visible during the campaign, although she has appeared at a couple of Djou fundraisers and will speak at a rally for Djou later this week. But her party says you can expect to see a lot more of her once the crush of legislative business is out of the way.

At the same time, watch for a more active presence by major Democratic figures, including Sens. Daniel Inouye and Dan Akaka, who have endorsed Hanabusa. Case, who doesn't have that kind of heavyweight backing, uses those endorsements to show he is not part of the "status quo."

As May approaches, the battle will heat up and the stir will be felt from Honolulu all the way to Washington.