Healthcare Vote Brightens GOP Outlook

Hawaii’s 1st District (Honolulu), Rhode Island’s 2nd District and Washington State’s 1st District were all considered a political “no-man’s land” for Republican U.S. House candidates less than a year ago  The entire state of Hawaii has sent only one Republican to the House and that was back in 1986.  Rhode Island-2 has reliably sent a Democrat to Congress for 20 years and Washington-1 has had a Democratic congressman for all but four of the last 18 years.

For Republicans in these three districts, the outlook has never been promising.  But 2010 is radically different.  Since the healthcare vote in the House March 21, the angry reaction nationwide has fueled the growing “Tea Party” movement and similar protests and has also fueled the chances of Republican candidates in those three U.S. House districts once considered  out of the question for GOP pickups.

If HA-1, RI-2, and WA-1 can flip from Democrat to Republican this year, then it follows that many more districts that are marginal can fall into the GOP column.  And thoughts of Nancy Pelosi forced to relinquish her gavel to a Republican majority in the House after four years are not fantasy after all.

Upset in Obama Country?

The nation’s eyes will be trained on Hawaii’s 1st District May 22, as voters in the district that Barack Obama claims as his birthplace will fill a vacancy in Congress.  Surely, my fellow political reporters will be fighting to head out to the Aloha State to cover this special election.

With the resignation of veteran Democratic Rep. Neal Abercrombie (to run full-time for governor), the dynamics of the race for succession actually work on behalf of a Republican.  All candidates regardless of party will appear on the same ballot and the top vote-getter—no matter what his vote percentage—wins.

The contest becomes even more intriguing because all ballots will be cast by mail, with ballots mailed in from April 30 until May 22.

The two leading Democrats are decided liberals, both of whom live in the 2nd District.  Both, in fact, have run for the 2nd District seat before.  Ed Case was the 2nd’s congressman from 2002-06 and Colleen Hanabusa is state senate president.

“So I’m the only major candidate who can actually vote for himself,” the lone Republican candidate Charles Djou ,  Honolulu City Councilman, told me last week.  The son of a Chinese father and Thai mother, the 39-year-old Djou is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Finance.

In a state where Republicans have historically been less-than-conservative, Djou paints a striking contrast between himself and very liberal opponents Case and Hanabusa.  As he put it, “They both said they would have voted for the healthcare bill.  I said I would have voted ‘no’ on the bill because I it will require $600 billion in new taxes and I don’t think it will fix healthcare.  They both said they favored the $860 billion stimulus package, and I was against it.  They both favor keeping the estate tax and I want to end it for good.  They both want to raise the capital gains tax and I want to lower it in a big way.”

The big-government issue, along with the unusual dynamics of the race, make it very possible that for only the second time in Hawaii history, a Republican may be elected to the U.S. House.  Coming in the district Barack Obama claims, the election of a GOP “Rep. Djou” is sure to be for Democrats from the White House to the U.S. House a political tsunami.

One of ‘Stupak Dozen’ Under Fire in Little Rhody

As the only paraplegic in Congress, Democrat James Langevin is a national figure.  The former Rhode Island secretary of state (who was injured in a accident with a gun while a youngster) is a recognized spokesman for disabled Americans and his record of voting the liberal line on spending while remaining pro-life has been enough to make Langevin a fairly safe incumbent in Rhode Island’s 2nd District.

Not so after the healthcare vote.  Langevin was widely considered one of  the “Stupak Dozen”—the 11 House Democrats, along with Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.) who were considered “in cement” against voting for a healthcare bill that did not include an airtight ban on tax funding for abortion such as that contained in the measure that passed the House in November.

“Actually, my opponent was one of the original Democrats who said he wouldn’t vote for a bill without the ban.  He was before Stupak,” Republican nominee Mark Zacaria told three HUMAN EVENTS reporters over lunch last week, “And they all turned out to be sheep led by the leadership into voting for a bill without the ban they said was critical.”

In a district with a strong Roman Catholic population, Langevin’s slavishly going along with Nancy Pelosi and the other liberal House Democratic leaders is clearly working against him.  Moreover, the Ocean State has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation (Michigan is first) and this has translated into anger over the Administration’s weak economic policy and support for U.S. Air Force veteran and small businessman Zacaria.

As the Republican nominee against Langevin two years ago, Zacaria drew less than 40% of the vote in a campaign he freely admits was under-financed and poorly run.  This time, the GOP hopeful has a crack professional team in his corner and, over the weekend, 20 Zacaria volunteers were in the field canvassing more than 500 households.

“And you bet the Tea Party movement is strong here!” Zacaria told my colleagues and me , “9 to 12, and the different ‘Tea Party’ groups had large rallies even before the healthcare vote and I try to speak to as many as I can.”

With no Senate seat up, the race for the House will have the top ballot line in Rhode Island., making the race between James Langevin and Mark Zacaria particularly well- worth watching.

Will GOP Win Back Washington-1?

Since he unseated Republican Rep. Rick White back in 1998, Democrat Jay Inslee appeared to have secured his hold on Washington’s 1st District, which includes Snohomish County and where Microsoft is a major employer.  In ’08, Inslee was re-elected with 68% of the vote.

But, less than 48 hours after the House passed the healthcare bill March 21, a Moore Information poll showed that Inslee’s approval rating districtwide had plummeted to 37%.

As a result, there is sudden, widespread interest in the candidacy of Republican James Watkins, a former Microsoft executive and onetime trouble-shooter for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.  Watkins campaign consultant Lew Moore, who was national campaign manager for Ron Paul’s ’08 presidential bid, told me last week that “Politico called Inslee one of ‘Pelosi’s bouncers,’ the Democratic members who physically kept their colleagues from leaving the House chamber during the vote on healthcare.  That’s going to be an issue here, all right!”

Inslee’s dramatic drop in the polls came at a time the local Tea Party movement is booming.  As Moore noted, “There are 200, 300, sometimes 400 people at a Tea Party at any given time.”  In addition, the GOP establishment in the Evergreen State is embracing the businessman Watkins and his candidacy.  State Atty. Gen. Rob McKenna (who has launched a suit against the healthcare bill on constitutional grounds) is one of Watkin’s most enthusiastic backers.

Given its Democratic leanings in recent elections, Washington State has increasingly been labeled a “blue” state.  “Not so fast!” some are saying this year.  Along with the boomlet for Watkins and the fresh poll numbers showing Inslee in political hot water, polls have also shown Democratic Sen. Patty Murray vulnerable to defeat this year.  Former GOP State Sen. Dino Rossi, who lost two heartbreakingly close races for governor, is reportedly “80% of the way” toward a race against Murray, one state Republican source told me in confidence.

The political fall-out from the healthcare vote in three House districts long thought to be immovably Democratic clearly shows that, in Bob Dylan’s words, “the times they are a changing.”