John Gizzi's Races of the Week

Hawaii’s 1st U.S. House District

Djou vs. Case and Hanabusa

One of the most unusual—and very influential—U.S. House races this year will be held May 22 in Hawaii’s 1st District (Honolulu).

At this point, you are probably saying to yourself, “Hawaii, give me a break!” In its 51 years in the union, the Aloha State has elected only two Republican governors and one GOP senator and sent one Republican to the U.S. House (Pat Saiki, who held the 1st District from 1986-90).

But given the unusual circumstances following the resignation of Democratic Rep. Neal Abercrombie to run for governor of Hawaii, Republicans are going into a special election that for them could carry the title of Gardner McKay’s famed television series: “Adventures in Paradise.”

Under state election law, all candidates regardless of party appear on the same ballot and the top vote-getter becomes the new congressman. Two of the four Democrats on the special election ballot are heavyweight contenders and both come from the neighboring 2nd District. In fact, both former Rep. (2000-06) Ed Case and State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa have run for the House seat in the other district. 

In contrast, Republicans are united behind Charles Djou (“pronounced “Di—JOO”), the lone GOP member of the Honolulu City Council and a former state representative. The son of a Chinese father and Thai mother, the 39-year-old Djou is a lawyer and graduate of the Wharton School of Finance. 

“And my positions on the issues of the day are quite clear,” the GOP hopeful says, “against new taxes or tax increases, for tax cuts, and against the stimulus package, the bailouts, cap and trade, and the healthcare package.” As for his two leading Democratic opponents, Djou says, “They both take opposite positions from me on every one of those issues. And they both support same-sex marriage, but I do not.”

If there is any difference between Case and Hanabusa, it is their relations with the kingpins of island politics. Case, cousin of AOL tycoon Steve Case, earned the wrath of his party’s graybeards in ’06 with his brash, and eventually losing, primary challenge to Sen. Daniel Akaka. In this race, both Akaka and fellow Democratic Sen. Daniel K. Inouye have strongly endorsed Hanabusa.

You get the picture:  There are dueling Democrats who have no substantial issues difference and there is Charles Djou. His election to Congress would be dramatic because he won in Hawaii and would immediately raise eyebrows because Djou would be representing the district that claims Barack Obama as a native son. Hence, the case for rallying to the banner of Charles Djou, whose victory May 22 would, for conservatives nationwide, be a true-to-life adventure in paradise.

(Djou for Congress, P.O. Box 235280, Honolulu, Hawaii, 96823;

Illinois’ 11th U.S. House District

Kinzinger vs. Halvorson

To call the ’08 election of Democrat Deborah Halvorson to Congress from Illinois’11th District (Will County) “freakish” or “a fluke” is no exaggeration.

Weeks after winning the primary, the Republican nominee for the seat of retiring Rep. Jerry Weller (R.-Ill.) suddenly abandoned the race. Party elders picked a substitute candidate in May and he went into the fall having to start a campaign from scratch. 

So then-State Sen. Halvorson didn’t need to do much. With Illinois favorite son Barack Obama heading the Democratic ticket and her campaign fueled by nationwide donations from the pro-abortion Emily’s List, Halvorsen coasted to victory.

Now it is 2010 and the race for Congress in the Prairie State’s 11th District is light years different from ’08. Grass-roots Republicans took an immediate liking to 30-year-old Adam Kinzinger, who had won election to the McLean County Board at the age of 20 and served as a U.S. Air Force pilot in Iraq. 

Like the young Jack Kennedy and Richard Nixon when they won election to Congress after World War II, candidate Kinzinger attracted attention and won support because of his military service. In addition, he was something of a local hero for other reasons: Coming out of a restaurant one evening, Kinzinger spotted a young woman being attacked by a man. He immediately went into action, subduing the knife-wielding assailant and winning the gratitude of the almost-victim and the entire community.

Kinzinger worked hard in the GOP primary, maintaining a vigorous regimen of speeches to regular party meetings and the newer “Tea Party” groups. The candidate recalled a “meet and greet” event in Bloomington where, in his words, “80 people showed up and none had been involved in politics before. These are the kind of folks conservatives need to take back Congress and the country.” 

Backed by an enthusiastic cadre of young volunteers, Kinzinger rolled up 62% of the primary vote over three opponents. 

Turning his sights on Halvorson (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 10%), Kinzinger contrasts Halvorsen’s votes for huge stimulus spending and cap-and-tax climate legislation with his own message of tax cuts and incentives for private-sector job creation.

“That $20 million of stimulus money earmarked for our district isn’t working and cap and trade would make things worse for industry,” says the conservative hopeful. “Look, our district has 15% unemployment and our state is 48th in the nation in job creation. We have the resources and potential to overcome this, but we need to tear down the regulations that hold opportunity down.”

In a year when little is heard about cultural issues, strong pro-lifer Kinzinger said he is looking forward to debating abortion with his opponent, whom he calls “a fanatic on abortion.” 

Cynical liberals often criticize conservative Republicans for being “stuck in the past,” devoid of fresh ideas or fresh faces.  If conservatives focus their energy on Illinois’ 11th District, then they might just be able to respond to that criticism by pointing to “Rep. Adam Kinzinger—the future.”

(Kinzinger for Congress, P.O. Box 487, New Lenox, IL 60451,

Pennsylvania’s 11th U.S. House District

Barletta vs. Kanjorski

“My favorite congressman—Paul Kanjorski,” political commentator Dick Morris cynically said of the Democrat from Pennsylvania’s 11th District (Wilkes-Barre). “After serving in Congress 26 years, he won re-election last time with 52% of the vote. That takes some effort.”

When he made that caustic remark at the recent Pennsylvania Leadership Conference, Morris was discussing the vulnerability of Democratic House members from the Keystone State in 2010. He was right: Kanjorski (lifetime American Conservative Union rating: 15%) barely edged out his ’08 Republican opponent, Hazleton Mayor Lou Barletta, in a banner Democratic year.

“And it took an appearance by Bill Clinton the night before the voting to save him,” chimed in Barletta, now back for a rematch.

Before his almost-successful race against Kanjorski, Barletta was known nationwide as the mayor who stopped complaining about the problem of illegal immigration and did something about it.  At Barletta’s urging, the Hazleton Town Council enacted ordinances denying commercial licenses to employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants and rental permits to landlords who knowingly rent to undocumented aliens. 

At a time when an influx of illegal immigrants had led to a dramatic rise in Hazleton’s crime rate, Barletta’s 2007 actions proved widely popular. But a liberal federal judge struck down both ordinances and the resulting litigation continues to this day.
In discussing what he did on one key issue as mayor, Barletta takes on Kanjorski for what he isn’t doing on many key issues—“standing up for the people of the 11th District and defying Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi.” 

“He’s always there when the President and Pelosi need him,” says the conservative hopeful of his opponent. “Whether it’s a healthcare program we can’t afford, a stimulus package that isn’t working, or the cap and trade bill that will devastate the manufacturing industry, my opponent is with them. He’s got to go!”

Last time, he almost “went.” This time, Kanjorski will go, and not even Obama, Pelosi, or Bill Clinton will be able to save him if conservatives rally to the banner of Lou Barletta.  

(Lou Barletta for Congress, 8 West Broad St., Suite M-1490; Hazleton, PA 18301; 570-501-VOTE;