RACE OF THE DAY: Hawaii-01
By Shane D'Aprile, The Hill – Link to original >>> 10/13/10 06:00 AM ET
In Hawaii's 1st congressional district, Republicans are in position for an unlikely victory in Obama's backyard.
In 2008, Obama won the 1st district, which houses his home town of Honolulu, over Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) by 42 percentage points. But now, Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) holds an edge in this Democratic stronghold.
New numbers out Wednesday from The Hill's midterm poll give Djou a four-point lead over Democrat Colleen Hanabusa, despite an Obama endorsement for the Democratic nominee. Djou leads 45 percent to 41, with 12 percent of likely voters undecided.
The poll, conducted for The Hill by Penn Schoen Berland, surveyed 406 likely voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.9 percentage points.
Djou won the seat in a special election in May, but thanks to Hanabusa and Ex-Rep. Ed Case splitting the Democratic vote, he needed just 39 percent to do it. That left observers convinced it was just a matter of time before Democrats reclaimed the seat.
But The Hill midterm poll numbers show Djou in strong position with less than a month to go. Both his name recognition and favorable numbers are high, with 61 percent of likely voters holding a favorable opinion of the Republican.
It puts the pressure squarely on Hanabusa ahead of November in a district the national party views as a prime pickup opportunity in a year with precious few of them.
"This is a place where Democrats should win," Penn Schoen Berland's Craig Smith said of Hawaii's 1st district. "The party is relatively popular here, and so is the president."
Unlike the vast majority of competitive House districts in 2010, President Obama isn't a drag on the Democratic nominee in Hawaii's 1st. A full 64 percent of likely voters in the district approve of the job Obama is doing, including 57 percent of independents.
Even the approval numbers of Congress are better in this district. Overall, 43 percent of likely voters approve of the job Congress is doing — a much higher number than most of the battleground districts surveyed in The Hill's midterm poll thus far.
Even with those positive numbers and backing from the president, Hanabusa still trails. Djou holds a solid lead among independent voters, winning 48 percent to Hanabusa's 35.
As president of the state Senate, Hanabusa also enjoys high name ID in the district, but some Democrats have grumbled about her ability as a candidate. This past spring, it was no secret that the national party preferred Case, viewing him as the stronger candidate against Djou.
While Democrats are now lined up behind Hanabusa, there remain signs of lingering division within the Democratic base, as Hanabusa gets only 70 percent support from her own party. Djou is currently picking off 16 percent of Democrats, while winning almost universal support from his own party's base — a full 94 percent of Republicans are backing Djou.
Both candidates are trying to paint themselves as independent, with Djou railing against government spending in Washington and breaking with the GOP on "Don't ask, don't tell" and offshore drilling. Hanabusa, meanwhile, claims Djou has already become an entrenched member of the Washington Republican establishment and has hit him as a "mouthpiece" for the national GOP.
One other thing working in Djou's favor, despite the district's Democratic leanings — Hawaii voters rarely turn against their incumbents.
Democrats still appear convinced they have the edge here, releasing internal numbers Tuesday from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) that showed Hanabusa with a 48-44 percent lead in the race. The DCCC has already spent more than $410,000 in independent expenditure money targeting Djou.