By Shira Toeplitz, CQ-Roll Call
The special election in Hawaii’s 1st district could bring more bad news for Democrats, handing them a significant defeat in President Obama’s birthplace and upending the political climate there in a way no one envisioned mere months ago.
Given the tenor of recent events, CQ Politics is changing its assessment of the race to Leans Republican. A confluence of unique circumstances could give Republicans the upper hand after the mail-in ballots are counted on May 22. Two strong Democrats are splitting the vote in this winner-takes-all contest and the national party failed to put a dent in the campaign of Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R).
When Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie left the House in February to pursue a bid for governor, that might have been gutsy call for a district that gave Obama 70 percent of the vote. But the most recent public polls have shown Djou in the lead and the GOP’s advantage solidified when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced Monday it would stop spending in the race.
While Democratic spendng came to a halt, Republican lawmakers and GOP-aligned interest groups have sent tens of thousands of dollars to Djou’s campaign, including a total of $106,000 donated by 51 House Republicans. That sum accounts for nearly a tenth of the $1.2 million Djou has raised for the race, according to Federal Election Commission records.
There are more reasons why Djou could capture the seat by a plurality of votes.
Most importantly, the Democratic intraparty fight escalated to a point of no return. For weeks, the two leading Democrats – state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former Rep. Ed Case – were locked in a dead heat with Djou. But neither candidate has been willing to bow 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 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.
After the White House memo leaked the memo and a poll last week said Case was the party’s best chance for winning the seat, Hanabusa announced May 5 she was staying in the race anyway.
Second, Djou has more money to spend in the final days of this election. According to finance reports turned in on May 2, Djou reported $363,000 cash on hand, while Case had $154,000 and Hanabusa had $187,000 in the bank.
Additionally, turnout has been high in the district with about 30 percent of ballots already turned in to the state elections office. According to an automated telephone survey taken May 6 and 7, 53 percent of voters had already mailed in their ballots and 45 percent of those folks reported they voted for Djou.