Mark Takai and Charles Djou have much in common. They’re middle-aged family men who grew up in Hawaii, serve in the military and have years of experience in elected office.

But there are fundamental differences between the two candidates that will help urban Oahu voters decide Nov. 4 who they want to represent them in Congress for the next two years.

The race to replace U.S. Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who left her post for an unsuccessful Senate run, is shaping up to be competitive. Djou is anxious to return to a seat he briefly held and Takai is looking to take his long political career in the Legislature up to the next level.

Charles Dijou and Mark Takai.

Former lawmaker Charles Djou, left, is running against Rep. Mark Takai in the 1st Congressional District race.

PF Bentley/Civil Beat

Funding will be a factor as they try to attract thousands of potential voters in the 1st Congressional District — a socially, culturally and economically diverse area of Oahu that ranges from Kapolei and Pearl City to Honolulu and Hawaii Kai.

Djou, 44, has the most campaign cash on hand with almost $440,000 as of July 20. He’s been able to stockpile money after sailing through the Aug. 9 primary without a serious competitor.

As a result, Djou has an almost three-to-one financial advantage over the 47-year-old Takai, who spent more than $500,000 to beat six other Democrats in the primary.

Donations are pouring into both camps, though, as the focus turns to the general election. Mainland-based political action committees, as well as local businesses and individuals, are writing checks for thousands of dollars that will saturate the airwaves with political messages this fall.

(D) or (R)

The 1st Congressional District represents roughly 670,000 people, 334,884 of whom were registered to vote in the primary.

For many, the choice between the two is as simple as looking at the capital letter in parentheses next to their name on the ballot, the symbol of party affiliation. Takai, a Democrat, and Djou, a Republican, will each likely pick up thousands of votes from people who know little else about them.

Unlike Djou, who has suffered defeat and narrowly won elections, Takai has run unopposed more than half of the time and won lopsided victories when he did have a challenger.

Djou, a lawyer and Punahou graduate, markets himself as a candidate capable of hitting the ground running when he takes office partly because he served in Congress for almost eight months in 2010 and partly because he’d be joining his ilk in the GOP-controlled House.

He stands to gain votes from people who believe he’ll be more effective as a Republican working with the majority. But he risks alienating others in the Democrat-dominated district, not the least of whom are card-carrying union members.

Takai, who graduated from Pearl City High School, picked up early endorsements from the 13,000-strong Hawaii State Teachers Association and several other unions. Their support, both financial and through members voting in line with their picks, helped him defeat state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim, who was favored to win the primary, and it’s expected to play an even larger role against Djou.

Distinct Political Pasts

The primary was arguably the hardest fight of Takai’s 20-year political career. He trailed Kim in the polls the entire election season until late this summer, when the momentum shifted. He went on to win by 16 percent.

Unlike Djou, who has suffered defeat and narrowly won elections, Takai has run unopposed more than half of the time and won lopsided victories when he did have a challenger.

Takai’s first race was in 1994 to fill the state House District 34 seat representing Aiea and Pearl City that David Ige left for an unsuccessful state Senate bid. Takai beat Monte Rae Parker with 77 percent of the vote and has easily held onto this position every two years since.

When it comes to health care, Djou opposed the enactment of Obamacare while Takai believes the nation is better off as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act despite its problems.

Djou missed his first effort to enter elected office by 2 percent, losing to Iris Catalani in the 1998 race for the House District 47 seat representing the North Shore. He rebounded two years later, beating her with 53 percent of the vote.

But where Takai has stayed put, Djou has bounced around. 

In 2002, Djou left his House post to run for the Honolulu City Council. He won with 51 percent of the vote and ran unopposed four year later.

Djou left his council seat and ran for Congress in a special election in May 2010 to fill the CD1 seat long held by Neil Abercrombie, who stepped down to run for governor. Djou beat Hanabusa and Ed Case, who split the Democratic vote. 

Hanabusa took the seat back for the Democrats in the next regular election, besting Djou by 6 percent that November. She beat him again in 2012 with 54 percent of the vote.

Gay Marriage, Jones Act, Obamacare

Djou and Takai are considered moderates in their respective parties. But some issues clearly distinguish them.

Takai has within the last year come to support gay marriage, whereas Djou says he is troubled by the Legislature’s decision in 2013 to no longer limit marriage to being between a man and a woman. 

When it comes to health care, Djou opposed the enactment of Obamacare while Takai believes the nation is better off as a result of the federal Affordable Care Act despite its problems.

“It would be a real coup for the Republicans.” — Neal Milner, referring to how a Djou victory would be seen on the national political scene

Djou favors exempting Hawaii from the Jones Act, which requires ships transporting cargo in the states to be built and crewed by U.S. citizens and fly the American flag. The law is often criticized for increasing the cost of goods. Takai says it’s better to keep the statute because it protects U.S. jobs and vessels built in the U.S. can be used in a military emergency to help transport supplies.

Both candidates want to protect entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but have said reform is needed.

Djou, a major in the U.S. Army Reserve, and Takai, a lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii Army National Guard, have both done stints in the Middle East. 

Their positions on some issues relating to the military are clear, such as their support for repealing the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy. The policy, which effectively barred homosexual conduct in the Armed Forces, was put in effect in 1993 but was repealed in 2011.

As the election nears, Civil Beat will look more closely at where Takai and Djou differ on veterans affairs, the United States’ role in conflicts abroad as well as key domestic issues.

What’s at Stake for State Parties

University of Hawaii political science professor emeritus Neal Milner said the repercussions of this election will be intensely felt by the political parties in Hawaii.

If Djou wins, it’ll mark the first time Democrats have lost a CD1 race in a regular election since 1986, when Republican Pat Saiki dominated Mufi Hannemann.

“It would be a real coup for the Republicans,” Milner said. He added that the national GOP would make a big deal about a Djou win and use it to play into identity politics as Republicans try to broaden their base beyond mostly white voters and appeal to minorities. 

If Takai wins, the Hawaii Republican Party will likely have to turn to its small stable of candidates with statewide recognition and search for someone new to run in 2016.

“If  Djou goes down in defeat again, they’re going to be starting all over again looking for an attractive Republican,” Milner said.

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