There sits Charles Djou, with nearly 40 percent of the vote in the special election.

So how does he win again in the general election? Can he do it, given the Democrats’ sizable edge in registration in the 1st Congressional District and the fact that it’s unlikely that two strong Democratic candidates will split their party’s vote again?

The obvious answer is that he can’t, because if you total the votes for the two Democratic contenders — former Congressman Ed Case and State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa — the number would overwhelm Djou’s support. Together, they got 100,193 votes, to Djou’s 67,610. After all, he’s only the third Republican elected to Congress since statehood, and the first in 20 years.

However a deeper analysis of the results of a Civil Beat poll on the race conducted in early May by the Merriman River Group raises some difficult questions for Democrats as they look ahead to November. The automated-telephone poll accurately predicted the outcome of the special election (the poll had Djou with 39.5 percent of the vote; he got 39.4) and showed that Hanabusa was tied with Case and would likely beat him, as she did.

An examination of the poll results after Saturday’s election suggests that Hanabusa is more likely to win the Democratic primary, but that Case would be the stronger representative for the party in the general election. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Hanabusa couldn’t win in November, or that Case couldn’t win the primary. September and November are a long way off in political terms. However the analysis does show that Djou has an opening to recapture the seat in his next head-on election with a Democrat.

“Djou needs to get about a third of the losing primary candidate’s votes,” said Matt Fitch, executive director of the Merriman River Group. “It would seem like he’d have a much easier time getting a third of Case’s voters if Case weren’t in the race. Hanabusa’s supporters are more likely to vote Democratic, even if she’s not the candidate. That’s why Case is a stronger candidate for Democrats in November.”

Hanabusa clearly appears to have the edge in the September primary, because 45 percent of Democrats supported her vs. 35 percent for Case and 13 percent for Djou, according to the poll, which had a plus or minus 3 percentage points margin of error. But she may be the weaker general election candidate, because Case has a much stronger appeal among Independents.

“Case draws 2 and 1/2 times more independents (27-11) than Hanabusa does and it’s those Independents who are truly up for grabs if Case loses,” Fitch said. “If Case were not on the November ballot, Democrats should be alarmed that in our survey Djou was beating Hanabusa by a 5-1 margin among Independent voters.”

Among the critical independents who said the economy is their No. 1 issue, Merriman River Group’s Director of Polling Seth Rosenthal said, 46 percent supported Djou, 38 percent Case, and only 10 percent Hanabusa. This is one reason why if the economy remains the leading issue, it appears more likely that Case would have better odds than Hanabusa.

“It does look like Djou would have a better chance to beat Hanabusa,” Fitch said. “It would be tougher for him to beat Case. The numbers do suggest that Case is a stronger general election candidate.”

The pollsters believe that most of the Hanabusa voters would gravitate toward Case if he were the candidate, but that Djou would have a shot at siphoning off enough Case supporters from Hanabusa for a victory.

The No. 1 reason is that the economy was the most important issue for voters, and among Case voters 47 percent identified the economy as the key issue, vs. 39 percent for Djou and 37 percent for Hanabusa. (The total doesn’t add to 100 because for each candidate there were a number of issues that together totaled 100.)

“Case’s Independent supporters would go to whichever candidate has a more compelling way of talking about the economy,” Fitch said.

“Djou gets to 50 by being more convincing about economic issues than his opponent would be,” Rosenthal said. “That’s the biggest issue.”

Djou would need to hold onto his base by going with the message of limiting government and focusing on national security to some extent, Rosenthal said. And then, if Hanabusa is his opponent, he would go after Case’s people who care most about the economy. Case’s supporters are more likely to identify themselves as moderate, centrist Democrats and they may feel alienated from Hanabusa, in part because of negative advertising from her supporters.

If Case were the candidate in November, the poll numbers indicate that Hanabusa’s supporters would be less likely to shift to Djou. They’d stick with Case, because they tend to be more liberal, the traditional base of the Democratic Party, who have “absolutely nothing in common with Djou,” said Fitch.

The poll showed that 35 percent of likely voters identified themselves as moderates, 26 as conservative, 18 as liberal and 21 percent (a very high number) said they were not sure.

When it came to party affiliation, 47 percent identified as Democrats, 19 percent as Republicans, 28 percent as Independents and 6 percent weren’t sure.


DISCUSSION: Share your thoughts about this analysis of the 1st Congressional District September primary and November general election.

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