Djou heading to D.C. Council to pick Djou's successor
Mail-only ballot scored win in special election
Democrats shift focus to primary
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou punctured the Democrats' hold on the state's congressional delegation last night, winning a special election for Congress and becoming the first Republican in two decades to represent the Islands in Washington, D.C.
Djou earned 39.4 percent of the vote in the winner-take-all special election in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District and took advantage of a bitter split among Democrats between state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former congressman Ed Case.
Hanabusa, who had been trailing in third in most public and private polls, finished second with 30.8 percent, positioning herself well for the September primary.
Case took 27.6 percent and will have to climb back against a wall of opposition from establishment Demo-crats and labor unions who will help Hanabusa in the primary.
The winner of the primary will take on Djou again in the November general election, when Djou will need to appeal to more independents and moderate Democrats if he is to stay in office.
"I think we sent a clear message to Washington, D.C., that we are spending too much money and that we need more fiscal responsibility, and I look forward to going to Washington, D.C., and Congress to do exactly that," Djou said outside the state GOP's headquarters.
Djou will fill out the remaining months of former congressman Neil Abercrombie's term, which expires in January 2011. Djou will have to run in the Republican primary in September, but is expected to win easily.
Djou becomes the third Republican — after former U.S. Rep. Pat Saiki and the late U.S. Sen. Hiram Fong — to represent Hawai'i in Washington since statehood.
Hanabusa said she believes her campaign had the most effective grassroots organization.
"This is what defines Hawai'i politics — it's the personal touch," she said.
Hanabusa said she had heard anecdotally that some people may have voted for her after watching television advertisements critical of Djou and Case and also after national Democrats suggested privately that she should step aside for Case.
Her supporters, gathered at her campaign headquarters off Ward Avenue, regarded second place as a victory.
"From the volunteers' standpoint, it's a win," Hanabusa said. "You have to think about what they and this campaign have had to deal with in terms of the adversity, the naysayers and everyone else who came in and said we didn't have a chance. We come in second even despite that."
Case had been describing the campaign as between him and Djou for the past several weeks, particularly after several national Democrats indicated that they thought he was the Demo-crat with the best chance of beating Djou.
Case was the target of negative television ads from Djou, Hanabusa and Mainland groups such as the conservative Independent Women's Voice.
"I think what happened is the sum total of probably $1 million worth of attack ads leveled at us by both Hanabusa and Djou, especially Djou," Case said. "She got a free pass on the attack ads. She was basically not attacked at all, and I was.
"She just kind of flew under the radar and I took the hit. Charles obviously viewed me as the principal threat, otherwise he would have been attacking her."
Voter turnout was 54 percent of the 317,337 eligible voters in the state's first all-mail special election for Congress after two Honolulu City Council special elections last year.
Many voters interviewed said they were looking for change.
"He has bright ideas and he's a fresh face," Beris Paik, a retired school teacher who lives in Kāhala said of Djou, adding that she believed he would resist pressure from the labor unions that often influence majority Demo-crats.
"I believe that people are pretty tired of the old faces."
Cherylynn Gatiuan, a homemaker who lives in Pearl City, said she shares Djou's conservative values and likes that he was the only one among the three leading candidates to oppose civil unions. She also said the state could benefit from a change in Democratic control of the congressional delegation.
"I think it would help in certain areas, because sometimes it's just so overrun with the Democratic Party instead of listening to other things that might work," she said.
Joey Lee, a carpenter who lives in Waipahu, believed Hanabusa was more in tune with the concerns of average workers struggling through the economic downturn.
Lee said Hanabusa was "closer to us."
Don Kroessig, a private school teacher who lives in Hawai'i Kai, said he liked what Djou and Hanabusa have accomplished in local and state politics but believed Case was ready to go to Washington.
"My political perceptions are similar to what he presents," he said of Case's moderate views. "To me, it's being pragmatic. If you're going to get things done, it's about negotiations."
Gov. Linda Lingle, who was able to attract independents and moderate Democrats in her two Republican victories for governor, said Djou should continue with his message that he would put Hawai'i before his political party.
"What I did, and what he has done, is told people in a very sincere way, 'I'll do what's best for everybody, I'm not going to go with any special interest, even if it's my own party sometimes that might want me to do a certain thing,' " the governor said.
Lingle said "that's the key message that everyone should recognize. While we all run from a political party, you've got to be able to show that you would do what's best for everyone."
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, who endorsed Hanabusa, said the odds were against her given the dynamics of the special election. But he said her second-place finish indicate that she will be competitive against Djou.
"The results would indicate that in November she should do very well," Inouye said by phone from Los Angeles.
Inouye, who resisted pressure from national Demo-crats who wanted a clear path for Case, said the results showed they were behind the wrong candidate.
"Well, I think the results would indicate that if they had just stayed silent the result could have been a little different," he said.
Inouye urged local Democrats to concentrate on Djou in November.
"Just be a little patient because we'll do well this fall," Inouye said.
Abercrombie, who resigned in February so he could concentrate on his campaign in the Democratic primary for governor, also predicted that Democrats will prevail in November.
"The majority of voters in the district supported Democratic candidates in this special election," he said in a statement. "I am confident that a Democrat will win the congressional race in the general election.
"The people of Hawai'i need a representative who will support President Obama's agenda and who will not cancel Hawai'i's other vote in the U.S. House."
Djou started as an underdog. A poll taken in January for the Star-Bulletin and KITV by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research of Washington found the Republican trailing Case and Hanabusa with just 17 percent of the vote.
At the time, national and local political analysts believed the race favored Democrats but warned about the uncertainty of the special election and the potential for Democrats to split their vote.
After Scott Brown's upset GOP victory in a special election for U.S. Senate in traditionally Democratic Massachusetts in late January, Djou and local Republicans said a Djou victory in Hawai'i would send an equally "profound statement" nationally.
While national Republicans helped Djou with fundraising and advice, the National Republican Congressional Committee did not air television ads in the Islands and instead focused on a special election for Congress this month in Pennsylvania.
"I congratulate Charles Djou for his victory and a successful campaign based on the widely shared values of cutting spending, shrinking government and creating real, permanent American jobs," U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, the NRCC chairman, said in a statement. "I have no doubt that Hawai'i families will be well-represented in Congress as he joins our fight to return commonsense economic policies and fiscal sanity to Washington."
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $314,000 on television ads in Hawai'i against Djou but pulled out earlier this month after concluding that Case and Hanabusa were splitting the Democratic vote. Inouye moved $150,000 of his campaign money to the DCCC to help finance the ad campaign and keep the group neutral.
"Rather than reflecting a true contest of ideas, the outcome of this election reflects the unusual nature of a race that put two strong Demo-crats competing against one Republican in a winner-take-all contest," U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the chairman of the DCCC, said in a statement.
"As a result, the DCCC decided not to compete in this special election but to focus on the general election in November.
"The fact that the Democratic candidates together received over 50 percent of the vote demonstrates that Democratic prospects are very good in November."
In May, the Hawai'i Poll taken for The Advertiser and a private poll taken for the Democratic National Committee found Djou leading and Case and Hanabusa splitting the Democratic vote. National political analysts changed their outlook to Republican.
With Djou as the front-runner, Democrats shifted their focus to the September primary and November general election, when they will have a chance to take back the district.
Dan Boylan, a University of Hawai'i-West O'ahu history professor and political analyst, said he does not know if unity is possible given the personalities involved.
"It's going to be tough. I think it's going to be much tougher than they realize," he said. "It seems to me that there is no love lost, obviously, between Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa."Staff writer Gordon Y.K. Pang contributed to this report. Reach Derrick DePledge at email@example.com or 525-8070.