Mass. win elates Island GOP
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Hawai'i Republicans are hoping the GOP's upset victory in a Massachusetts U.S. Senate race will be a bellwether for Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou in the special election to fill out the remainder of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's term in Congress.
Djou, a Republican, is up against former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, both Democrats, in a special election that could be held as soon as May.
The special election will likely be the first in the nation following Massachusetts state Sen. Scott Brown's victory on Tuesday over state Attorney General Martha Coakley in a special election to replace the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Djou said Hawai'i voters could send a "profound statement" nationally by electing a Republican to the House in President Obama's home state, like Massachusetts voters did by sending Brown to the Senate to replace the liberal icon Kennedy.
Hawai'i, like Massachusetts, is a traditionally Democratic state.
"I think it will be as profound a statement to our nation," Djou said at a news conference at state GOP headquarters. "But more importantly, it will be a statement of the people of Hawai'i that we need to change the direction of Congress. And the system going on there in Congress isn't working."
Hanabusa, D-21st (Nänäkuli, Mäkaha), said she doubted Hawai'i voters would be influenced by what happened in Massachusetts. She said Brown appeared to connect better than Coakley with Massachusetts voters.
"And I think that's what it comes down to in our elections," Hanabusa said. "I think it would be a mistake to think that it was a one-issue thing, or to think it's a referendum on Barack Obama."
Case, a moderate who, like Brown, has appealed to independents, said he believes Massachusetts voters were sending a message against partisan politics. He said he thinks Hawai'i voters have some of the same concerns.
"I think Massachusetts was, first and foremost, about voters rejecting the entire approach of purely partisan politics," he said.
Djou said that, like Brown, his campaign themes are reducing the federal deficit, opposing a second federal stimulus package, and devising an alternative to health care reform favored by Obama and many Democrats.
Djou held a town hall meeting on health care reform in August after members of the state's congressional delegation declined to host a similar event during the summer recess.
But Djou could benefit most if national Republicans target the special election to try to build momentum in their effort to recapture the House in November.
Brown was off the radar nationally until the past few weeks, when it appeared he had a chance to win and break the Democrats' 60-vote supermajority needed to end filibusters and fully control the Senate.
An adviser said Brown brought in $12 million in campaign contributions in the closing days, much of it through online donations from across the country.
Control of the House will not be at stake in the special election in Hawai'i, but Djou hopes for some similar fundraising magic.
Djou raised about $400,000 through the end of the year, 94 percent from Hawai'i residents. "If I can get a fraction of that, I think that would be OK," Djou said of Brown's national fundraising success.
The special election is for the remaining months of Abercrombie's term, which ends in January 2011. The September primary and November general election will determine Abercrombie's replacement.
Last week, the Cook Political Report changed its assessment of urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District from a likely Democratic victory in November to leaning Democratic, mostly because of the uncertainty of the special election.