RELATED: National Democrats to 're-evaluate' participation in Hawaii Congressional race—Advertiser: “So what?”
In Hawaii, intraparty feud may cost Democrats a seat in Congress
(This is how the Dem media will spin a Djou victory. It is not going to be acknowledged as an expression of changing voter attitudes, it is just Democrat infighting. Yeah, right—liberals should just keep on believing that. Their self-deception will prevent them from recalibrating their message as they go to their political demise.)
Philip Rucker Washington Post Thursday, May 6, 2010
HONOLULU -- Across the country, Democrats are on the defense, laboring to put out political fires sparked by angry voters and emboldened Republicans. Even Hawaii, the bluest of blue states, where a Democratic machine has controlled politics for the five decades since statehood, has become a dangerous hot spot for the party in power.
But here's the catch: The Democrats started this fire themselves.
Democrats here might lose a House seat in a special election this month because of a feud between two candidates that has inflamed tensions within Hawaii's ethnic voting blocs and between the state's Democratic establishment and the party's national leaders.
The result could be a victory by plurality for the GOP candidate. That would upend Hawaii's political order and, like the recent Senate race in Massachusetts, simultaneously hand Republicans a compelling narrative of Democratic defeat -- this time in President Obama's birthplace.
"It's a nightmare for Democrats," said Dan Boylan, a University of Hawaii history professor. (Who’s son, Peter Boylan, is Dan Inouye’s press spokesperson.)
There is no primary to replace Neil Abercrombie, a 10-term congressman who resigned to run for governor. So the race in Hawaii's 1st Congressional District will be decided in a winner-takes-all election on May 22.
For weeks, the two leading Democrats -- state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former congressman Ed Case -- were locked in a dead heat with Republican Charles Djou, but a new poll shows Djou pulling ahead in the 14-candidate contest. He led with 36 percent of likely voters in a Honolulu Advertiser poll released Sunday, followed by Case at 28 percent and Hanabusa at 22 percent.
Neither Democrat has shown signs of bowing out. The national party has not publicly endorsed a candidate but believes Case has a better chance of winning. The White House this week leaked to reporters an internal memorandum by pollster Paul Harstad concluding that the seat is "more likely than not to fall into Republican hands" and that Case is "the only candidate" who can beat Djou.
Hanabusa dismissed the pressure from Washington and told supporters on Wednesday: "I'm in this race until the end -- and I'm in this race to win."
Djou's supporters were just as bullish when they gathered one recent evening on a lush green mountainside overlooking Waikiki Beach for a fundraiser. Djou, a Chinese American City Council member, said a victory in this overwhelmingly Democratic district could add to the GOP's momentum heading into November's midterm elections.
"The American people want to know: Do the people of Hawaii want more of the same, or do they want something different?" Djou said. "The mantra in Washington is 'Spend, spend, spend, and if that doesn't work, spend some more.' Well, enough is enough with the spending."
Despite some similarities, the Hawaii contest is unlike January's Senate election in Massachusetts, where a little-known GOP state senator, Scott Brown, rode a wave of discontent and "tea party" support to win the late Edward M. Kennedy's Senate seat. Here, the tea party movement is hardly visible, and voter anger seems confined largely to the Republican base, traditionally about 30 percent of the electorate.
Abercrombie dismissed as "Eastern fiction" the suggestion that Hawaii's race is a referendum on Obama. "Are you kidding? It has nothing to do with Obama. Obama has a 70 percent approval rating out here, and if he were on the ballot, he'd probably get 80 percent."
In this cosmopolitan metropolis, where whites are in the minority, strategists said elections often are decided by ethnic voting blocs, including whites, Chinese Americans, Japanese Americans, Filipino Americans and native Hawaiians.
Hanabusa, 58, is a labor lawyer who was elected to the state Senate in 1998 as an outsider but quickly ingratiated herself with her party's elders, including Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, a Japanese American World War II hero who has represented Hawaii in Congress since it achieved statehood in 1959.
Hanabusa, who also is Japanese American, has been strongly backed by Inouye; the state's junior senator, Daniel K. Akaka; and unions representing teachers, government employees and the powerful longshoremen. This organizational support could be critical, considering the race will be decided by mail-in ballots sent out this week.
"Turnout will be a tremendous factor," said Randy Perreira, president of the Hawaii AFL-CIO. "It's a big question . . . because it's so out of kilter with the normal election cycle, whether people will be looking for a ballot."
Hanabusa said in an interview that she would help Inouye, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, continue to direct federal resources to the Hawaiian islands.
"The federal government is what has equalized the ups and downs in our economic swings," Hanabusa said. By contrast, she said, Djou is "clearly 'no' on taxes, 'no' on health care, 'no' on stimulus. It's just 'no, no, no.' . . . Because of that, he's not displaying the knowledge that you need to recognize how sensitive Hawaii is and the need for the expenditures."
Yet, although Hanabusa is considered a skillful legislative operator, she has been slow to connect with voters. For instance, it is required practice in the state for candidates to stand on the sides of major roads waving signs and flashing the "shaka" (the thumb-and-pinky gesture that connotes "hang loose") as motorists zoom by. One afternoon last week, dozens of Hanabusa's labor-union supporters waved signs in the rain for nearly two hours until the candidate arrived. Hanabusa waved for about 20 minutes, and then an aide drove her back to the campaign headquarters.
Case, by contrast, was at the side of a road with his wife, Audrey, and a few supporters before dawn the next morning, waving to commuters for hours.
Case, 57, has an independent streak -- Hawaii's Democratic establishment effectively blacklisted him when he challenged Akaka in a primary four years ago. "We have the largest-running machine in the country, and it's had a good run," Case said of Inouye's operation. "But it's obstructing progress now, not allowing for transition, new people, new ideas."
Case, a cousin of AOL founder Steve Case, has solid name recognition, having represented Hawaii's 2nd Congressional District from 2002 to 2007. He says he's receiving strategic help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, although the DCCC has not publicly endorsed him. In robocalls he recorded to drive up Democratic turnout, Obama does not mention a candidate but merely asks Hawaiians to vote for "a Democrat."
Inouye, trying to protect Hanabusa's standing, sought and received an agreement from national party officials that they would not endorse Case or call for Hanabusa to quit. But that has not kept them from highlighting a scenario they consider dangerous.
"This race should be a lay-up for Democrats, but the home-state senators are allowing local politics to trump national Democratic interests," said a senior party official, who demanded anonymity to speak candidly. "They're underestimating how this will impact us all heading into the midterms."
Hanabusa is spinning claims of Washington favoritism -- as well as the Republican Party's backing of Djou -- in her favor, aware that Hawaiians tend to resent mainlander influences in local campaigns.
Djou understands this, too, and has purposefully kept his rhetorical distance from the national GOP, even as he delivers boilerplate lines about repealing a health-care law he calls "a terrible prescription for the American people."
The DCCC has funneled more than $300,000 into the race, airing ads attacking Djou. But Abercrombie said the spots serve only to rev up the Republican base. "It's free advertising for Djou," he said.
At the Djou fundraiser, where supporters sipped white wine and nibbled on pulled pork, Republicans were hopeful that Djou will become the third Republican ever to represent Hawaii in Congress.
"It's almost divine intervention," said Anita Bruhl, a real estate agent who moved to the state from Boston in the 1970s. "The same unusual election here is very similar to the one in Massachusetts, no? It's entrenched Democrats there, entrenched Democrats here.
"The first one rippled through the world. Wouldn't it be something if this one rippled through the world, too?"