Hawaii Poll: Djou leads Democratic rivals in congressional race
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou has the advantage in the special election for Congress, a new Hawai'i Poll has found, giving Republicans the best opportunity in two decades to claim the urban Honolulu district.
Djou leads with 36 percent, former congressman Ed Case is chasing at 28 percent, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa is trailing with 22 percent. Thirteen percent were undecided.
The poll, taken for The Advertiser and Hawai'i News Now, confirms fears among Democrats that Case and Hanabusa could split the Democratic vote in the winner-take-all election and help Djou score a rare Republican upset.
The poll was conducted by Ward Research from April 23 through April 28 among 349 voters who said they were likely to mail back their ballots in the May 22 election. The margin of error was 5.2 percentage points.
"Right now, for me, it's about fiscal responsibility," said Walter Yuen, a retired flight attendant who lives in Hawai'i Kai and is leaning toward Djou.
Yuen believes federal and state lawmakers rely too much on tax increases to maintain governments that have grown too large. "We've got to learn how to control our spending," he said. "If I have to do it, they should have to do it."
Wendy Fujimoto, a paralegal who lives in Salt Lake, said she doubts the federal economic stimulus package will improve the economy and thinks the answer is less spending and limited government.
Fujimoto is concerned about changes to a Native Hawaiian federal recognition bill that would give Hawaiians sovereign authority prior to negotiations with the state and federal governments. She also believes the Jones Act, the federal maritime law that protects the domestic shipping industry, has led to higher consumer costs.
Fujimoto likes Case, and believes Djou may be better at identifying problems than solving them, but she is leaning toward Djou. "I want things to change and I think Charles would bring that," she said.
Warren Abe, a salesman who lives in 'Āiea and is looking for work, has misgivings about the new federal health care reform law and some of President Obama's other policies.
Abe said he believes Case, a moderate, would be more likely than the liberal Hanabusa to challenge the president when necessary.
"I think he'll bring up the right questions, while Hanabusa will be in his corner 100 percent," he said.
Like many in Hawai'i who usually vote for Democrats, Susan Ikeda, who works at an elementary school and lives in Salt Lake, said she is a little nervous about the potential for Case and Hanabusa to split the vote and reward Republicans.
Ikeda believes Hanabusa has shown leadership as Senate president and is the stronger Democrat. "I think she's more likely to stand up and say what she thinks," she said.
The Hawai'i Poll found that concerns about splitting the Democratic vote are real. Among voters who said they usually choose Democrats, Case took 35 percent and Hanabusa had 34 percent.
WINNER TAKES ALL
Rebecca Ward, the president of Ward Research, said the winner-take-all format of the special election benefits Djou.
"Case and Hanabusa are clearly splitting the Democratic vote," she said.
Djou said he believes his message of lower taxes, limited government and fiscal responsibility is resonating.
"I think people are disappointed in the direction that Congress is taking our nation," said Djou, who, unlike Case and Hanabusa, lives in the district and mailed his ballot yesterday.
The national interest in the special election, he believes, has helped drive local attention.
"The eyes and ears of the American people are on this race," he said.
"This is a major, historic election. This is a national statement. The statement that, even here in Hawai'i, the people are concerned that Congress is spending too much money on programs that don't work with no plan to pay it back.
"And that needs to change."
Case said the poll shows the campaign is between him and Djou.
"People are going to choose change. They are not going to choose the status quo of control politics," he said of Hanabusa, who has been endorsed by many establishment Democrats and labor leaders. "The only question remaining is whose brand of change?"
Case said he will appeal to wavering Democrats and independents who might be leaning toward Djou that he is the better brand for Hawai'i. He described Djou as "a pawn of the radical right bent solely on embarrassing President Obama in his hometown and advancing an extreme agenda in Washington."
Case said Hanabusa voters have to ask themselves a hard question: "Do they believe that Ed Case or Charles Djou can best represent them in Congress? Because that is their choice."
Hanabusa said she senses the campaign is closer than the poll suggests. She believes, like Case, that Djou may be hitting a ceiling among Republicans and independents, and has sought to distinguish herself from Case among the Democrats who make up most of the district's voters.
The Hanabusa campaign released a television advertisement on Friday critical of Case for backing an extension of President Bush-era tax breaks on capital gains and dividends.
"We're distinguishing ourselves with people, I think, looking at us and feeling that we probably reflect their values a lot closer," Hanabusa said.
Hanabusa also believes she has a superior grassroots field operation — aided by her supporters in organized labor and allies of U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the state's leading Democrat — to turn out the vote.
"People are beginning, more and more, to identify with our campaign," she said.
National Democrats, still stinging from U.S. Sen. Scott Brown's Republican victory in traditionally Democratic Massachusetts in January, do not want another embarrassment in a blue state.
While many local Demo-crats believe a Djou victory would be only temporary — Case or Hanabusa will have another chance to take the seat in the November general election — national Democrats have warned about the negative message of a loss in Obama's hometown district.
National Democrats have considered taking sides between Case and Hanabusa, but have instead been financing campaign ads to weaken Djou.
"What this shows is that voters in this district clearly prefer a Democrat," said Andy Stone, western regional press secretary for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. "Our focus continues to be making sure voters know about Charles Djou's record of support for corporate special interests over the needs of families in Hawai'i and ensuring Democrats send in their special election ballots."
Since statehood, only two Republicans — the late U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong and former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki — have represented Hawai'i in Washington, D.C. Republicans last held a congressional seat in 1990, when Saiki stepped down from urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District for a failed campaign for the U.S. Senate.
National Republicans have not yet matched Democrats with campaign ads but are helping with fundraising. The Republican National Committee moved $90,400 in March to the Hawai'i Republican Party, which used the money to help pay for a week of Djou's television ads.
U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, asked Republican donors last week to raise $100,000 by Friday for Djou and a Republican candidate in a special election this month in Pennsylvania.
Djou also raised more than $115,000 in one burst surrounding an appearance on conservative Sean Hannity's cable television show on Fox News.
While many public-sector labor unions have contacted their members in the Islands on behalf of Hanabusa, national conservative groups, such as Liberty First, a political action committee that has grown out of the tea party movement, and the National Rifle Association have done outreach for Djou.
Djou's campaign had more cash on hand than Case and Hanabusa through March — although Hanabusa had raised more money overall — and analysts believe he had a strong month of fundraising, judging from his recent media buys.
Dan Boylan, a University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu history professor and political analyst, said a Djou victory would likely lead to tremendous pressure from national Democrats for the party to unite behind a single candidate before the September primary and avoid a drawn-out fight that could further benefit the GOP in November.
"They are going to have some crowing rights if Djou wins," Boylan said of Republicans, "because Massachusetts and Hawai'i are two of the most liberal states in the country.
"They are going to make a lot of hay out of this."