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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Democrats may find it tough to oust Djou

By David Shapiro

Democrats who think it'll be easy to dislodge Republican Charles Djou from the seat in Congress he won Saturday need to get a grip on reality before the campaign cranks back up.

Djou pulled nearly 40 percent of the vote against Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case, an impressive showing in a three-way race.

By comparison, in the 1994 three-way governor's race between Ben Cayetano, Patricia Saiki and Frank Fasi, Cayetano was elected with only 36 percent of the vote.

Some Democratic leaders have argued that their two candidates split nearly 60 percent of the vote to Djou's 40 percent; thus, Democrats should easily defeat Djou when it goes one-on-one in the general election.

But it's not that simple given the bitter political divisions and personal antagonism between the old-guard and union Democrats who support Hanabusa and the moderate and independent Democrats who back Case.

The two Democrats combined didn't do nearly as well as the 72 percent of the vote President Obama pulled in the 1st Congressional District in 2008, suggesting that Djou's support extended beyond the Republican base.

The roughly 60-40 split in favor of the Democrats and Djou is one way to look at the numbers, but another way suggested by Djou backer Peter Kay is the nearly 70-30 split in favor of the anti-establishment candidates (Djou and Case) over the establishment candidate (Hanabusa).

Djou would need to pick up about a third of the votes of the Hanabusa-Case primary loser (or have that many of their supporters sit out the general) to get from 40 percent to 50 percent, and it's not difficult to see that happening with the bad feelings between the Democrats.

Both Democrats have reason for concern. Hanabusa managed only 30 percent of the vote despite heavy fundraising, little negative advertising directed at her in the sniping between Djou and Case, and massive support and get-out-the-vote power from labor unions and the Democratic establishment led by Hawai'i's two U.S. senators and two former governors.

Case looks more like damaged goods with every loss. As the perceived Democratic frontrunner, he couldn't raise half as much money as Hanabusa.

Djou deserves credit for running a smart campaign that produced not only a win, but an impressive victory margin.

He started a distant third in the polls because of a perceived lack of congressional stature compared to the two Democrats, but in the campaign he held his own against his more experienced opponents, especially in the head-to-head debates.

Djou preached the Republican gospel of fiscal conservatism, but avoided the tea party rhetoric that is popular with the GOP on the Mainland but doesn't play here.

He made effective use of the fact that he was the only major candidate who lives in the 1st District and could vote in the election, and if one of the Democrats won, we'd be in the somewhat ludicrous position of having a 1st District representative who lives in the 2nd District and a 2nd District representative, Mazie Hirono, who lives in the 1st District.

Winning the district where Obama was born is a bragging point for national Republicans, and Djou will be greeted in Washington with a hero's welcome like Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown received after he won the late Edward Kennedy's seat.

The GOP will give Djou every opportunity to look good and all the funding he needs to compete in November. Democrats in the Hawai'i delegation risk appearing petty if they gang up and try to make the new guy look bad.

There's much still to happen between now and November, but it looks from here like Djou's to lose.