We have been discussing the Hawaii special election for some time as a prime pickup opportunity for the GOP. Republican Charles Djou (who served on the Honolulu City Council) has won with 40% of the vote. Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, who was endorsed by the Hawaii Democratic organization, finished second with 31% of the vote, while Washington Democrat (and newspaper) endorsed Ed Case finished third with 28%. A few things need to be mentioned about this GOP victory/Congressional race:
(1) This is the first time since 2001 that the GOP has picked up a House seat from the Democrats in a special election;
(2) This victory now means that, assuming the Republicans hold this seat and the Indiana seat just vacated by Mark Souder, the GOP only needs to pick up 39 seats to regain control of the House;
(3) Turnout was 54% in this special election, which was conducted by mail. This almost certainly will equal if not exceed the voter turnout in the fall elections in Hawaii, so Democrats can’t use the excuse of Republicans benefitting from low turnout. In fact, the last time there was a Congressional special election in Hawaii, turnout was a pathetic 13%, and the Republican in that race only received 4% of the vote;
(4) Djou is helped by two electoral realities: (a) This seat, which is basically the Honolulu city limits, is the more Republican of the two Congressional seats in Hawaii, and (b) Hawaii tends to re-elect its incumbents of either party;
(5) Republicans have held this seat before – most recently between 1987 and 1991, and only lost it because their Congressman vacated the seat in an unsuccessful run for an open U.S. Senate seat;
(6) Interestingly, the last time the GOP picked up (and held) this House seat, the Republican victor in 1986 got a huge boost from Democratic infighting;
(7) While Washington Democrats wrote off this race when Case and Hanabusa refused to withdraw (thus splitting the Democratic vote), their vow to have a unified Democratic field in November isn’t as simple as it seems, because Hawaii has a late primary on September 18. Case and Hanabusa will be campaigning against each other for four more months before one of them finally wins the Democratic primary. In the meantime, Djou will have time to prepare for the November general election while the two Democrats are still campaigning against each other;
(8) This race is yet another black eye for the Washington establishment for several reasons: (a) their preferred candidate (Ed Case) came in third, (b) the third place showing looks especially embarrassing when the main selling point they used for Ed Case’s being the Democratic candidate was that he was “more electable” than Hanabusa, (c) by throwing their weight behind Case, they angered the local Hawaii political establishment, because they never forgave Case for his running against an incumbent Democratic Senator in the Democratic primary four years ago;
(9) Because Honolulu is where Barack Obama was born, this victory gives Republicans some bragging rights, as Obama received 70% of the vote in this district in his 2008 Presidential campaign.
John is a political consultant and blogger with JMC Enterprises with expertise in poll sample development and analysis, development of targeted voter files for phone canvassing or mail outs, campaign strategy and demographic consulting, among other things. See his site at WinWithJMC.com for more information.