If you didn’t know any better, you might think Ed Case was still running for Congress.

The race for the 1st congressional district seat is in the shadows of the hard-fought Democratic primary for Hawaii governor and Honolulu’s winner-take-all mayoral race, both scheduled for Sept. 18.

It seems like more of the recent coverage of the three special election candidates has focused on Case than on the winner, Charles Djou, or his November opponent, Hawaii Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. Case’s third-place finish in May precipitated his withdrawal.

Come the morning of Sept. 19, a lot is going to change. The sprint toward the general election is going to be on, and you’re going to see Djou and Hanabusa splashed across the front page with regularity.

When the attention shifts to them, Case — and especially his supporters — will remain central to the race.

When the former congressman bowed out of the race at the Hawaii Democratic Convention in May, he left nearly a third of the electorate up for grabs.

Case and Hanabusa split Democrats’ votes, clearing the way for Djou to take the race with just 39.4 percent — 67,610 votes in all. Hanabusa finished second with 52,802 votes, or 30.8 percent, and Case finished third with 47,391 votes, or 27.6 percent.

Civil Beat’s post-election analysis of a pre-election poll determined Hanabusa would have a better chance at earning the party’s nomination in the primary. Case, a “Blue Dog” Democrat whose terrain is the political center, seemed a stronger general election candidate because Djou would have had a tougher time poaching Hanabusa supporters from Case.

With Case now out of the picture, Hanabusa, as the likely Democrat in the race, presumably has the edge in convincing those 27.6 percent of voters to come to her side. But if Djou, now an incumbent congressman, were to steal even a third of Case supporters, he’d be in a strong position in November. (That general election matchup presumes Djou and Hanabusa survive their respective primary battles with Republicans C. Kaui Jochanan Amsterdam and John “Raghu” Giuffre and Democrat Rafael “Del” Del Castillo.)

That’s why moving to the political center in search of independents and former Case voters is an appealing strategy for both candidates.

“What I’ve said certainly does have some relevance to the CD1 race because I think Sen. Hanabusa will need to speak to that group and that theme to prevail, and so too would Congressman Djou,” Case told Civil Beat in an August interview. “Neither of them is going to be able to win only relying on their base.”

Issues That Matter

Asked which issues he thought were most important in wooing his supporters, Case pointed to the economy and jobs on both the national level and local level.

“If a candidate is not speaking to that, they’re probably not speaking to the people that voted for me,” he said. Djou has the federal fiscal health issue “in his teeth,” Case said, while Hanabusa has yet to truly take hold of and address that issue.

Djou has made fiscal responsibility a pet issue during his brief time in Congress. He voted against Medicaid and education funding that he called a “state bail out” and against a $7.4 billion bill providing health benefits to 9/11 responders.

On Aug. 21, Djou delivered the Republican rebuttal to President Barack Obama‘s weekly radio address. In it, he mentioned the GOP proposal to cut $1.3 trillion in federal spending.

The Djou campaign said those who liked Case’s fiscal message should prefer Djou’s fiscal message to Hanabusa’s fiscal message.

The Hanabusa campaign disagreed, saying Hanabusa has demonstrated fiscal responsibility by working on the constitutionally mandated balanced budget at the Hawaii Legislature. It also pointed to Djou’s desire to preserve the Bush tax cuts, an issue that Hanabusa hammered Case on in a television advertisement during the run up to the special election.

Another critical issue that Case said would weigh heavily on the minds of his supporters is “nonpartisanship in a highly partisan world.” In other words, how well Hawaii’s representative is able to play with others and find a better way to govern. And Case said both candidates are lacking.

“Both Congresman Djou and Sen. Hanabusa are highly partisan politicians. Their focus has in fact been on their party first, and for the most part, the folks that voted for me, that’s not at the top of their list,” Case said. “There’s not much of a secret about my approach to things and not much of a secret to the goals of the folks who have supported me over the years.”

Djou has broken with his party on a number of issues.

Just days after taking office, he was one of only five House Republicans to vote for the repeal of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that bars homosexuals from serving openly in the armed forces. Recently, Djou authored a Wall Street Journal op-ed that criticized proposed changes to the 14th Amendment, which makes any person born in the United States automatically a citizen, regardless of their parents’ race, ethnicity or citizenship status.

He was also the only Republican sponsor of a bipartisan measure called the “Truth in Spending Act” that would require the government to check the accuracy of cost projections of legislation five and 10 years after those laws take effect.

In a press conference held at Hawaii News Now’s studio after he taped the rebuttal to Obama’s radio address in mid-August, Djou was asked if he needed to tread carefully in criticizing Obama, whose popularity has stayed high in his birth state of Hawaii even as it has dropped elsewhere. He said it’s possible to criticize Obama’s policies without criticizing the president personally.

Hanabusa, for better or worse, hasn’t needed to employ much bipartisanship in her current job. The Senate over which she has presided as president had, until recent campaign-fueled resignations, a 23-2 majority of Democrats that made cooperation with Republicans all but unnecessary.

Clashes between the heavily Democratic Hawaii Legislature and Republican Gov. Linda Lingle have been common during Lingle’s two terms in office. Most recently, Hanabusa and fellow Senate Democrats shot down the appointment of Judge Katherine Leonard, Lingle’s preferred nominee for Supreme Court chief justice.

Hanabusa’s campaign said her record as president of the Senate showcases her ability to collaborate and cooperate.

Case’s Political Analysis

Case does not agree with either Djou or Hanabusa on all the issues, a point he made clear in the May 30 convention speech that announced his withdrawal from the race and his formal endorsement of Hanabusa.

He told Civil Beat that his supporters are, like him, independent-minded and won’t be easily shepherded one way or another, even by Case himself and his widely distributed electronic newsletters.

“I’m not really the kind of politician that wants to or can say, ‘Let’s all go vote for so-and-so,'” Case said. “They’ve got to earn it on their own.”

Despite the protestations that his personal endorsement won’t make or break a candidacy, Case has been increasingly vocal about other races in recent weeks.

After months of near-total silence, Case waded into the brouhaha in the aftermath of Mufi Hannemann‘s controversial “I look like you” statement to union carpenters. Case’s Aug. 8 Star-Advertiser op-ed “Racism and localism in Hawaii politics has dark side” was only the tip of the iceberg of his political analysis.

Ten days later, his newsletter carried the headline “Election ’10: Beyond the Machine” [pdf] and railed against the “centralization of political power and control in the hands of too few to the exclusion of too many.” Hanabusa, not Democratic party patriarch (and vocal Case critic) Daniel K. Inouye, was the only politician mentioned by name.

Within a week, Case had published two more newsletters. The first [pdf] endorsed Neil Abercrombie‘s campaign for governor and pounded Hannemann as “the most dangerous politician in a generation.” The second [pdf] endorsed former prosecutor Peter Carlisle‘s bid for mayor and criticized Acting Mayor Kirk Caldwell as “the product and clear choice of a political machine that must end.”

When he endorsed Hanabusa in May, Case said that while they disagree on key points, they agree on values like equality, opportunity, compassion and tolerance.

Case reiterated to Civil Beat that he has made clear his personal support for Hanabusa, saying he’s “done everything I’ve been asked to do.” He said he and the Hawaii Senate president have had a “straightforward and candid conversation” about important issues.

A photo of Case and Hanabusa standing onstage with arms raised together in triumph is one of six on the back cover of a Hanabusa-for-Congress brochure. It was used with Case’s permission, he said.

Fun note: The Case-Hanabusa photo is in the upper right, as far away as possible from the Inouye-Hanabusa shot in the lower left.

Case implied that whether he appears alongside Hanabusa at campaign events or in advertisements in the fall is a decision for the Hanabusa camp to make. Such hypothetical appearances would likely provide a bump for Hanabusa, but it remains unclear which way Case’s independent backers will go in November, even if he does hit the campaign trail.

“I think the choice between Djou and Hanabusa is an easy choice for 60 percent of the people who are going to vote, and then it gets a little more dicey for the other 40 percent,” Case said. “Those are the people who are going to decide who is our next representative in Congress.”

DISCUSSION Which candidate — Charles Djou or Colleen Hanabusa — will secure the support of voters who previously went for Ed Case? Join the conversation and learn more about the First Congressional District.

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