So the first special U.S. House election of 2010 will be held in the 1st District (Honolulu) of the state that claims Barack Obama as a native son. And this is what makes the upcoming contest most interesting: It could well be won by a Republican.
The 1st District is considered the less-Democratic of the two House districts in the Aloha State and, in fact, elected Hawaii’s only Republican House member in its 50-year history as a state: Patricia Saiki, who held the 1st District seat from 1986 until she ran unsuccessfully for the Senate in 1990.
As in 1986, the Democrats in the 1st District are set for a bitter primary. State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former 2nd District Rep. Ed Case are the two most important candidates so far. Hanabusa considered a bid for governor earlier this year, but then focused on a race for Congress once Abercrombie made it clear the statehouse was his goal. Case, cousin of AOL tycoon Steven Case, is considered an anti-establishment Democrat. In ’06, after two terms, he gave up his House seat to unsuccessfully challenge veteran Sen. Daniel Akaka for renomination.
And, also as it was in ’86, Republicans have a first-rate contender: Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, a former state legislator and minority leader of the Hawaii House of Representatives. The 38-year-old Djou (pronounced “Zhou”), son of Chinese immigrants, has been likened to Louisiana GOP Gov. Bobby Jindal as a first-generation American who has excelled through hard work and study. A graduate of the Wharton School of Finance in Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California Law School, Djou is an adjunct professor at the University of Hawaii’s Law School and a JAG officer in the U.S. Army Reserve.
“And you could call me a strong conservative on fiscal issues and a moderate on cultural issues,” Djou told me over lunch during a recent trip to Washington. In emphasizing his fiscal conservatism, the GOP hopeful made it clear he was willing to oppose much of what the Democratic Congress has spent money on or wants to spend money on -- from the stimulus package to cap and trade to healthcare reform -- all favored by Obama (who carried the 1st with 70% of the vote last year).