Election results show Djou's appeal outside East Honolulu
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Congressman-elect Charles Djou's strength remains in more conservative East Honolulu, but he demonstrated in his special-election victory Saturday night that he may be able to compete with Democrats in central and west side territory that could be critical in the November general election.
Djou, a Republican, took most of urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District because state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former Congressman Ed Case split the Democratic vote.
An Advertiser analysis of the vote by state House district found that Djou performed well in potential swing districts around Mililani and 'Ewa Beach. While the combined vote for Hanabusa and Case was still larger than Djou's markers, there is no guarantee all these voters would stick with the Democratic nominee in November.
Hanabusa trailed Case in East Honolulu but did better than the former congressman in every district west of Makiki — an encouraging sign for her campaign against Case in the September primary.
Hanabusa's muscle in the most solidly Democratic territory of urban Honolulu, combined with her expected edge in fundraising and the organizational help from establishment Democrats and labor unions, gives her the advantage in the primary.
Djou, who could be sworn in to fill out the remaining months of former Congressman Neil Abercrombie's term as soon as tomorrow in Washington, D.C., said he considers himself the underdog in November. He said he would be leaving the Honolulu City Council this week.
"I realize that this is an uphill battle, although I have been given and granted an extraordinary privilege to be a congressman, and, of course, it is an advantage to run as an incumbent," Djou said yesterday at state GOP headquarters. "I still realize, looking into the November election, I'm still the underdog, and I still have to prove to the people of Hawai'i that this trust they have granted to me is deserved."
Djou said he believes the independents and moderate Democrats he must win to hold the district in November are, like other voters, frustrated with the direction of Congress and interested in greater fiscal responsibility. He said that with three leading candidates in the special election, there was a lot of overlap on issues, but he thinks the issues will be much more defined in a two-candidate race.
Democrats sought to connect Djou to the conservative extremes of the national GOP during the special election. Democrats will now scrutinize every significant vote Djou takes over the next several months in Congress to try to show he does not reflect the views of most urban Honolulu voters.
"As sharp as the elbows were in this special election, they are going to get even sharper in the general election," Djou said. "The only thing I can point to is my record. It's my record over the last 10 years on the council and the Legislature of being an effective representative and putting my constituents first, making sure that it's Hawai'i first, ahead of my personal or partisan interests."
Djou, who will be the only Republican in the state's congressional delegation, said he does expect to side with Hawai'i Democrats and President Obama on certain issues. But, he said, "if they're doing something that I believe is not in the best interest of the people of Hawai'i, I will call them on it."
Hanabusa said the special election showed that she is the stronger Democrat despite Case's claims over the past several weeks that he was the only Democrat who could challenge Djou.
She said voters stood behind her even as Case and some national Democrats suggested that a vote for her would be wasted. She said her performance showed that the grassroots outreach from her superior network of activists and volunteers was effective.
"We probably got thrown the worst curveball by being called irrelevant and being called a wasted vote," she said. "But the people stuck by us and voted."
Late appeals by Obama, three former Democratic governors and other leading Democrats to vote for a Democrat — not singling out Hanabusa or Case — helped boost turnout to 54 percent and likely drove more votes toward Hanabusa. Hanabusa won state House districts centered in St. Louis Heights, Mō'ili'ili, Kalihi, Kamehameha Heights, Waipahu and Pearl City.
"I think our gut was correct," she said, countering the assessment by many national Democrats that Case was the more electable Democrat. "Hawai'i is a special place, and people here look at politics a lot differently."
Hanabusa said the message from Saturday night is not to presume how voters will act. "You never underestimate the voter," she said.
Case captured the state House district he used to represent in Mānoa but trailed in every other district.
Some Democrats are concerned that the primary could further divide the party and give Djou a manual on Hanabusa's and Case's weaknesses.
When Case, a moderate, lost a close primary for governor to Mazie Hirono in 2002, for example, a Hawai'i Poll found that nearly half of Case's voters said they planned to vote for Linda Lingle, a Republican, in the general election.
Lingle beat Hirono and claimed 14 of the 16 state House districts that Case had won in the primary.
In a statement last night regarding the special election, Case said, "There's no way to sugar-coat a loss."
Case said he called Djou to offer his congratulations "and offer my assistance as he undertakes his new responsibilities on Capitol Hill for the next seven months."
Yesterday, Case said, "I actually did go bodysurfing at Point Panic, get a start on cleaning up my mess of a yard, and spend time with my family. But tomorrow is a new day, the start of our next chapters together, and I'm excited to begin anew."