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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 19, 2010

It ain't over until it's over twice


By Jerry Burris

What we are about to see in the next few days is an increasingly frantic scramble for a rapidly diminishing pool of voters in the nationally watched special election for the 1st Congressional District (urban Honolulu) congressional seat.

More than 40 percent of the voters in the district have already sent in ballots by mail. More are arriving each day.

(A reminder: Ballots have to be received by the elections office by 6 p.m. Saturday. If you drop your vote into the mail on that day, it will arrive too late to be counted.)

Since this is a plurality election, every vote truly counts. So the barrage of television ads, telephone calls, news conferences and the like will continue, probably even escalate.

Most observers give this election to Republican Charles Djou. Djou's poll numbers show him with substantially less than a majority of voter support in the district. The Advertiser's Hawai'i Poll put him at 36 percent with Democrat Ed Case at 28 percent and Democrat Colleen Hanabusa at 22 percent. Thirteen percent said they were undecided.

But, in a winner-take-all election, those numbers are more than good enough for a GOP victory.

If history is any guide, most of those voters who told the Hawai'i Poll they were undecided will go with a Democrat. But not all to the same candidate. Some will go with Case but a good chunk traditional older Democrats will go with Hanabusa.

It's interesting to note that the percentages of "undecided" voters in demographic categories associated with the traditional, party-line voter (older, AJA, some union connection, relatively well-off) are almost exactly the same as the overall "undecided" group in the poll.

These are the folks who traditionally listen to what party leaders such as Sen. Daniel K. Inouye have to say. And he says Hanabusa.

So, expect a bit of surge for Hanabusa when all the ballots are counted, but probably not enough to change the outcome.

Then what happens?

Djou earns the cachet of being the first Republican to represent the district in decades. Many will chortle that a Republican has won in a solid blue state and in a district where the president himself was born. With an engaging personal story (his grandfather was originally from Shanghai and had his name officially transliterated from the original Zhou to Djou when he moved to Hong Kong) and a mediagenic personality, Djou would be noticed in Washington.

But, as Djou knows only too well, this is but the first step. He faces another election this fall, when the seat left vacant by Neil Abercrombie will be up for a full two-year term. This time it will be a standard primary/general election where Djou will eventually have to square up one-to-one with a Democrat. Here the speculation gets interesting, if a bit hazy.

If Hanabusa is the Democratic nominee, some think many of Case's more moderate and independent backers will drift to Djou if for no other reason than to cast a vote against the Democratic "establishment."

If Case wins, many bitter old-line Democrats might just stay home.

But all that presupposes that Democrats will be unable to step aside from their messy internal party fighting and rally around whoever carries the "D" flag into the election. That's far from a sure bet. Hawai'i Democrats have shown a remarkable ability to set aside their differences after a bitter primary and likely will do so again when the chips are down.