“I’m thankful for all the support I received and I feel very good about tomorrow night.”
That’s what Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou told me Friday afternoon about the special U.S. House race in Hawaii’s First District. Thirty-six hours later, the upbeat nature evinced by Djou (pronounced ‘Di-Joo’) was justified, as he won the race, becoming only the second Republican U.S. House Member since Hawaii became a state and winning in the district that claims Barack Obama as a favorite son.
With near-final returns in from balloting done almost exclusively through the mail, Honolulu’s lone Republican city council member rolled up a plurality over the two Democrats in the race–former 2nd District Rep. Ed Case and State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. Under the Aloha State election law, all candidates regardless of party appeared on the same ballot and the top vote-getter became the successor to former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (who had resigned the 1st District seat to seek the Democratic nomination for governor).
“I would say that a Republican victory in the 1st District would be pretty significant,” the 39-year-old Djou told me on the day before he pulled it off, “You think of Hawaii as major Democratic territory—‘solid blue.’ And then you talk about winning in the President’s hometown. And then you factor in that this would be the first special House race a Republican has won anywhere since Barack Obama became President and that this is the first time a Republican has won a special election for a House seat that was previously Democratic since 2001.
“Yes, I would say a Republican victory is going to be major news.”
There is little argument that Djou, son of Chinese and Thai immigrants and graduate of the Wharton School of Finance, benefited from the schism within Democratic ranks. Case, cousin of AOL tycoon Steve Case, had never been forgiven by party leaders for a mean-spirited primary challenge to veteran Sen. Daniel Akaka in ’06. Akaka, Sen. Daniel Inouye, and many labor unions weighed in strongly for Hanabusa. An interesting sidelight in the race is that both Case and Hanabusa were residents of the neighboring 2nd District, leaving Djou the lone major contender to actually live in the district he sought to represent.
“Fiscal Conservative, Social Moderate”
Where the two Democrats took decidedly left-of-center stances on issues from supporting gay marriage to backing the Obama Administration on healthcare and stimulus spending, Republican Djou campaigned, as he told me, “as a fiscal conservative and social moderate. I believe Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, but I am against federal funding of abortion and for parental notification. And I’m against gay marriage."
“In terms of an economic agenda, I would have voted against the healthcare bill passed by the House and support its repeal. And I opposed the $870 billion stimulus package because I believe when you increase the cost of investment and entrepreneurship, you get less investment and fewer entrepreneurs.”
Djou also recalled how he campaigned hard in favor of a balanced budget amendment, a moratorium on earmarks (“an important symbolic gesture to show Congress is serious about dealing with spending”), ending the estate tax, and cutting the capital gains tax to create more private sector jobs. He also ran as a strong “free trader” and vowed to try to get Congress to move on agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea (which is especially important to the Hawaiian economy.)
There are a lot of complicated factors in the Djou win. Along with the fact that both Democrats were on the same ballot, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee announced nearly two weeks ago that it was pulling out of the Hawaii race (although, as Djou reminded me, "President Obama’s own Organizing for America group had people working for both Democrats here."). The intense animosity between Case and Hanabusa undoubtedly drove some voters to the GOP hopeful, whether they agreed with him on most issues or not. Like Louisiana’s Republican Joseph Cao, who won in a New Orleans district that is nearly 80% Democratic, Hawaii’s Djou is sure to be one of the top Democratic targets in November.