Republican Charles Djou Hopes to Win District That Voted 70 Percent for Obama in '08
By JOSHUA MILLER ABC NEWS
...No incumbent candidate for federal office in Hawaii, Democrat or Republican, has ever lost in the history of the state -- so Djou has history on his side. But Democrats are quick to point to the fact that President Obama won the district -- which includes the President's hometown of Honolulu -- with more than two-thirds of the vote in 2008. "It is a Democratic district, in a Democratic state," said Richard Rapoza, Hanabusa's director of communications.
Political prognosticators say despite the Democratic makeup of the district, the race is truly a toss-up.
"I think that with a week to go [Djou] definitely has a fighting chance of winning a full term," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Neither of them have it in the bag."
So what's the case a Republican is making to a district that's anything but? Independence.
"For me, it's not so much about party, it's about what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Hawaii and I will always vote with Hawaii," Djou said in an interview, rattling off a list of issues on which he has broken with his party in the short time he's been in Congress. One that stood out: he voted in favor of ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military.
But Djou also isn't shy about emphasizing his Republican views on the economy: he views the stimulus as a failure, wants Congress to spend a lot less, supports a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution and supports the extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts.
Djou has "essentially been very candid and straightforward about his Republican principles. And, love 'em or hate 'em, they're out there pretty clear," said Neal Milner, a professor of political science at the University of Hawaii at Manoa "He's not an angry Republican and he's not a social conservative," he said. "And he's just kind of naturally comfortable with people."
Djou, a lawyer and a Captain in the U.S. Army Reserve, believes that the anti-establishment feeling in his district helps his prospects.
"The people here in Hawaii are very frustrated, upset with the direction Congress is taking our nation," he said. "What really gets my constituents upset is the fact that the Congress has spent all this money ... and unemployment still remains high, the economy hasn't gotten turned around and we're still in an economic rut," he said.
Does Aloha Mean Good-Bye for Hawaii Democrats?
But it's not just the mood of the district that gives Djou a fighting chance, outside analysts say. It's also the dysfunction of the Democrats.
"The most interesting thing I've found about this race is how listless the Democrats have been here," Milner, the professor, said. "This was the Democrats election to lose, basically, and they just haven't caught on."
But the memory of that three-way special election remains. "I think the Democrats made everyone a little uneasy with their infighting," Wood, the analyst from the University of Virginia explained. "There are some Democrats who are not really ready to hop back on the Hanabusa train yet."