Will new Republican congressman hold Obama's home district? 

Republican Honolulu Councilman Charles Djou has won the special election in the 1st congressional district of Hawaii, the birthplace and childhood home of Barack Obama, with 40% of the vote, to 31% for state Senator Colleen Hanabusa and 28% for former 2nd district Congressman Ed Case, both Democrats. The Djou percentage is different from that widely reported, because I don’t count blank votes and over votes in the total as the Hawaii authorities do. Under Hawaii law, there was no primary in this special election; candidates of all parties ran with the leading votegetter elected. This was obviouslty an advantage for Djou, the only well-known Republican in the race. Democrats were split between state Hanabusa, a pillar of the Democratic machine led most of the last 50 years by Senator Daniel Inouye, and Case, elected to Congress after the death of incumbent Patsy Mink in September 2002 and reelected n 2004. In 2006 Case ran against the then 86-year-old Senator Daniel Akaka in the Democratic primary, which was considered lese majeste by the machine (amazingly enough, Senators Inouye and Akaka were born within four days of each other in September 1924); Akaka won 55%-45%. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the Obama White House reportedly favored Case over Hanabusa in this contest, presumably on the theory that his reputation as a reformer and moderate would make him a stronger candidate. But Inouye and company insisted on supporting Hanabusa and the DCCC pulled out of the race during the mail-in voting period, when a poll suggested that Djou was leading.

There’s an important backstory here: the efforts of an independent expenditure by a group called http://iwvoice.org/ Independent Women’s Voice. IWV commissioned a poll in the race in April, which showed Case leading and Djou within reach. In response IWV started running three ads prepared by the Brabender Cox firm, one charging that Case had voted 72 times for higher taxes, one charging that he had gotten an “F” rating from the National Taxpayers Union and one noting that he had hired a former consultant to former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (“Advisor B” on the FBI surveillance tapes). When these ads appeared, the Djou campaign stopped running negative spots and ran one showing Djou’s wife talking to camera instead. Subsequent polling for IWV showed Case’s negatives rising, and to the surprise of many he ended up running behind Hanabusa and far behind Djou.

This leaves Djou about as well positioned for the general election as a Republican could be. Yes, his 40% is well below the 50% needed to win a contest against the single nominee of the Democratic party. But it’s likely that Djou was the second choice of many who voted for Ed Case, which would position him well if Hanabusa is the Democratic nominee. And if Case is the Democratic nominee, his negatives are now much higher than they were at the beginning of the special election campaign.

It’s been noted by others that although Hawaii 1 voted for native son Barack Obama by a 70%-28% margin, it has not always been so heavily Democratic: it voted 53%-47% for John Kerry in 2004 and 55%-39% for Al Gore in 2000. In its 50 years as a state, Hawaii has shown two basic political characteristics: it tends to favor Democrats and it tends to favor incumbents. (Hawaii has only two congressional districts, with the 1st typically slightly more Republican than the 2nd, so statewide figures here are relevant). In the 13 presidential elections in which it has participated starting in 1960, it has voted an average of 54% Democratic and 42% Democratic. It voted heavily for incumbent Democratic Presidents Johnson (79%-21%) and Clinton (57%-32%) and was one of the six states voting for incumbent Democratic President Carter (45%-43%). It voted solidly for incumbent Republican Presidents Nixon (62%-38%) and Reagan (55%-44%) and cast pretty strong minority votes for incumbent Republican Presidents Ford (48%-51%) and George W. Bush (45%-54%). Only incumbent Republican George H. W. Bush was soundly defeated (37%-48%).

In addition, Hawaii has never voted against reelecting an incumbent member of Congress—a record shared, I believe, by no other state. Before last Saturday, 12 individuals had been elected to Congress from Hawaii, two Republicans and 10 Democrats. They are listed below, with their political fates; Hawaii elected only one member of the House in 1959 and 1960.

Hiram Fong (R), elected to the Senate in 1959, reelected in 1964 and 1970, retired 1976.

Oren Long (D), elected to the Senate in 1959, retired in 1962.

Daniel Inouye (D), elected to the House in 1959, reelected in 1960, elected to the Senate in 1962, reelected in 1968, 1974, 1980, 1986, 1992, 1998, 2004, still serving and running for reelection in 2010.

Spark Matsunaga (D), elected to the House in 1962, reelected in 1964, 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, elected to the Senate in 1976, reelected in 1982, 1988, died in April 1990.

Tom Gill (D), elected to the House in 1962, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1964.

Patsy Mink (D), elected to the House in 1964, reelected in 1966, 1968, 1970, 1972, 1974, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1976, elected to the House in 1990, reelected in 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000 and, though she died in September 2002, in 2002.

Cecil Heftel (D), elected to the House 1976, reelected in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, resigned to run unsuccessfully for governor in 1986.

Daniel Akaka (D), elected to the House in 1976, reelected in 1978, 1980, 1982, 1984, 1986, 1988, elected to the Senate in 1990, reelected in 1994, 2000, 2006, still serving.

Neil Abercrombie (D), elected to the House in September 1986 special election, defeated simultaneously for the Democratic nomination for the full term 1986, elected to the House in 1990, reelected in 1992, 1994, 1996, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, resigned in February 2010 to run for governor. Abercrombie lost the September 1986 primary to Mufi Hannemann, now Mayor of Honolulu, by a 40%-39% margin, but he was not an incumbent then since the special election was held the same day as the primary; Hannemman lost the general election to Republican Pat Saiki by a 59%-37% margin.

Pat Saiki (R), elected to the House in 1986, reelected in 1988, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1990.

Ed Case (D), elected to the House in special elections on November 30, 2002, and in January 2003, reelected in 2004, ran unsuccessfully for senator 2006.

Mazie Hirono (D), elected to the House in 2006, reelected in 2008, still serving.

The closest precedent to the situation in Hawaii 1 today was the 1986 race for the same seat, which featured both a special election and a divisive Democratic primary and resulted in a Republican victory in November. That divisiveness presumably contributed to the poor showing of Democratic nominee Mufi Hannemann in November. That looks like a good omen for Charles Djou.

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Michael Barone

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