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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No quit in these candidates so far

By Jerry Burris

Well, it's become obvious that the worst fears of local Democrats are coming true.

In the special congressional election for the right to succeed Neil Abercrombie at least temporarily in the 1st District (urban Honolulu), the tide is running in favor of Republican Charles Djou.

Perhaps this should be no surprise. The district has been represented by a Republican before (Pat Saiki) and the demographics increasingly tilt in the direction of the GOP the district has growing numbers of recently arrived, relatively affluent voters who are more than willing to give the Republican candidate a fair look.

But for all of that, here is the reality: If the polls are to be believed, a majority of voters in the district would still prefer a Democrat to represent them. But who? That is the rub.

Djou enjoys the plurality of the votes at this moment in the winner-take-all special election (there will be a regular election for the seat in the fall). His Democratic opponents, Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa, are favored (collectively) in recent polls. Obviously, this is not good enough, since Case and Hanabusa are splitting the liberal/moderate votes of the Democrats, leaving Djou a clear run down the middle. Case has staked out a moderate position, while Hanabusa stands as the classic liberal candidate, most in line with the politics of Abercrombie.

What to do?

The obvious answer, if the Democrats wish to hold on to the seat, is for one of those two to drop out and endorse the other. The national Democratic Party understands this and has subtly pressured for precisely this scenario. Most of the pressure is on Hanabusa, on the theory that Case's more moderate politics sell better in a district with a strongly middle-class, ethnically diverse set of voters (read, more Caucasians and newcomer voters than in the 2nd District's rural O'ahu and Neighbor Island territory).

So far, both Hanabusa and Case have slapped down any suggestion that it might be better for "the party" if one or the other withdraws. And rightly so. If you believe in yourself enough to commit life, family and treasure to the cause, do you give it all up for some kind of abstract strategic advantage?

Still, this looks like the Democrats' best hope at this point. But time is running out. This is primarily a mail-in election, with ballots due back May 22, and people are already making up their minds.

But there's still a possibility for a grand gesture, a moment of high political theater. Imagine if one of the Democrats were to announce:

"I'm dropping out of this special election. I urge my supporters to vote for (the other Democrat). It is far too important a time in the nation to risk losing even one Democratic vote in Congress. But make no mistake. I will be back in the regular election with all flags flying and if you are a Democrat at heart, you will vote for me because you know I have the interests of the party and the nation first."

Sounds kind of good, doesn't it?