Case stuns with withdrawal from Hawaii congressional primary
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
Former Congressman Ed Case, sacrificing his ambition for his political party, withdrew from the Democratic primary for Congress yesterday to prevent a divisive clash with state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa that could have weakened the party's chances against U.S. Rep. Charles Djou, R-Hawai'i, in November.
Case told delegates at the state Democratic convention that too much is at stake to let the September primary compromise values that Democrats had worked generations to preserve. He said he and Hanabusa may disagree on the need to change the state's political culture, but they share the values of equality, compassion and tolerance, and believe government can be an instrument for action.
Case, a moderate, said he agreed with Djou on issues such as the need to contain the federal budget deficit. "I just don't trust your way of doing it," he said. "Too often cold and heartless to too many people. Too frequently to the benefit of too few at the expense of everyone else."
Stunned delegates in the Hilton Hawaiian Village ballroom gave Case an extended standing ovation. Hanabusa, who had not been told in advance of Case's announcement, walked up on stage and presented him with a lei.
Case's decision to step aside immediately changes the political topography in urban Honolulu's 1st Congressional District.
Hanabusa, who finished second to Djou in the special election to fill out the remaining months of former Congressman Neil Abercrombie's term, will now have the undivided organizational and financial attention of national and local Democrats.
Hanabusa will have to calm independents and moderate Democrats who favor Case and are suspicious enough of her role within the party's establishment to consider Djou as an alternative.
'A GREAT SACRIFICE'
Case advised Hanabusa that she would have to speak to voters who are disillusioned with "politics that too often is about power, rather than people."
Hanabusa said she will never forget Case's magnanimous gesture, which she described as "a great sacrifice."
She said she would take Case's advice to heart and had a message for his supporters. "Your faith in Ed has been really proven," she said. "The fact that he has, in essence, put the party and the securing of the seat above any type of personal gain as a result of the election, I think is something that many had not attributed to Ed as a characteristic."
Djou also made a pitch for Case voters who want change.
"I wish Ed and his family well in their future endeavors," the congressman said in a statement. "Now voters will have a clear choice in November between the status quo and new leadership for Hawai'i. I look forward to talking to the nearly 70 percent of voters who voted for change in the special election and all voters who recognize that business as usual isn't good enough."
National Democrats had believed Case was the stronger Democrat in the special election and worked behind the scenes to try to get Hanabusa's allies among traditional Democrats and labor to back down.
U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, D-Hawai'i, who endorsed Hanabusa, resisted pressure from national Democrats to get her to step aside.
Hanabusa, who trailed Case and Djou in public and private polls, even held a news conference this month to announce that she would stay in the race.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which had been close to formally backing Case in the special election, deferred comment yesterday to local Democrats.
The National Republican Congressional Committee, which helped Djou with tactics and fundraising, described Case as "the DCCC's favorite candidate."
"Soon after the DCCC failed during the special election, they are kicking off the general election with another collapse as their brand and their preferred candidate have both become toxic on the island," Joanna Burgos, an NRCC spokeswoman, said in a statement.
PRAISE FROM PARTY
Inouye was accused by some national Democrats of putting his personal feelings against Case ahead of his party. Case had angered Inouye and other traditional Democrats with his unsuccessful challenge to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, in a primary for Senate in 2006.
Inouye said Case's withdrawal was not vindication. He said he was deeply moved by Case's gesture.
"He showed that he was a Democrat," he said. "When we must fight, we fight. When it's over, we embrace each other."
Abercrombie, whose February resignation to concentrate on his campaign in the Democratic primary for governor led to the special election, said Case showed a civic conscience. "It took a lot of guts to try to go for the greater good ..." Abercrombie said. "And to have a public conscience to say that the direction that he thought the Republican Party was going to take with Mr. Djou in Congress was something that he could not abide."
David Fry, an activist involved with the Young Democrats of Hawai'i, said the format of the special election allowed Djou to win with a plurality. Sixty percent of the voters who participated preferred Hanabusa and Case in the traditionally Democratic district.
"I think Case's move today has shown that he does see the big picture," he said.
Case was initially defiant about his third-place finish. He told reporters he still believed he was the more electable Democrat against Djou. He blamed negative ads by Djou, Hanabusa, and conservative and labor groups for his defeat.
'THE WRONG FIGHT'
Over the past week, several sources said, Case heard from campaign donors and friends who encouraged him to continue, but also from some who suggested he withdraw. Case would likely have struggled with fund- raising and would have had to contend with the organizational help Hanabusa was going to get from traditional Democrats and labor. Case was also advised, sources say, that another primary loss could be more damaging to any future political career than a graceful exit.
Case and his wife, Audrey, attended his 40th class reunion at Hawaii Preparatory Academy on the Big Island on the weekend. His campaign had no visible presence at the party's state convention in Waikīkī.
On Friday and Saturday, several Democrats at the convention said they had heard Case may withdraw. His campaign, however, would not confirm when asked on Saturday night.
"I thought it was the right thing to do, at the right time, for the right reasons," Case explained after his announcement.
In an e-mail to supporters, he said, "We've taken apart the results and analyzed our options every which way. I've listened to the heartfelt advice of my family, our incredible campaign 'ohana and so many others who share our dreams, and asked myself how I can best contribute. If it all lined up, it'd be an easy decision, but it doesn't. Yet, a decision must be made," he said. "My heart tells me to stay in this fight, but my head says this has become the wrong fight."
Many Democrats, including some who have doubted Case's party loyalty, were impressed that he chose the state convention for his announcement and that he embraced Hanabusa.
Some Democrats said Case fueled the fire after his loss by complaining about "the dark side of politics" and describing the majority party as a "machine," a term also used derisively by Republicans.
But Case told delegates yesterday that he was proud to be a Democrat. Many said the emotion his announcement caused, and the hugs he received afterward, were genuine. "When Ed spoke, you could feel the courage in that room," said Chuck Freedman, a Democratic strategist.