GOP sees opportunity in Islands
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Expanding their targets on the political map after unexpected success in Massachusetts, national Republicans think they can be competitive this year in several states where Democrats have had an advantage, even traditionally blue Hawai'i.
Gentry Collins, political director of the Republican National Committee, yesterday said Republicans are optimistic about recruits in Delaware and Connecticut and perhaps Michigan, Pennsylvania and New York.
Scott Brown, a former Massachusetts state senator who won a special election to replace the late U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., has given Republicans confidence they can compete by attracting independents upset over high unemployment, federal stimulus spending, and health care reform under President Obama.
Collins, who is here for the RNC's winter meeting, said the GOP has an opportunity in Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou's Republican campaign in a special election to fill out the remainder of U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie's term in Congress. He called Lt. Gov. James "Duke" Aiona's Republican campaign for governor "tough but winnable."
"It's a very important seat for us," Collins said of the special election in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District. "I think for us to win that seat will send a signal that what happened in Massachusetts is not an isolated event."
Collins said the alternative to Djou is "more of the same. It's a vote to keep (U.S. House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi running the Congress, and to keep the focus on things other than jobs and the economy."
Asked whether the RNC would commit resources to Hawai'i, given that there are more competitive races on the Mainland, Collins said: "I think you're going to see that very shortly."
Djou said he was promised RNC help but would not stress a partisan label in his campaign. He held a fundraiser hosted by Michael Steele, the RNC chairman, at Ruth's Cris Steak House at Restaurant Row on Monday night. Djou is also in negotiations to hire Patrick Ruffini, a strategist who helped with online fundraising for Brown in Massachusetts.
"I've always premised my campaign on being an independent voice for Hawai'i," Djou said.
Former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, the Democrats in the special election, have downplayed the possibility of a replay of Massachusetts in Hawai'i. The moderate Case, in fact, can make an argument that his record would be more attractive to independent voters than Djou's.
Andy Stone, the western regional press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has said Djou's opposition to the federal stimulus package — which included tax cuts — showed his "reckless priorities."
At the RNC meeting yesterday at the Hilton Hawaiian Village, party leaders opposed a resolution that would require Republican candidates to adhere to eight of 10 conservative principles to qualify for financial help from the RNC. The vote was not binding on RNC delegates, who could debate the resolution tomorrow.
Jonah Ka'auwai, the Hawai'i GOP chairman, said state leaders should be able to decide which candidates they want to support.