Perhaps the most closely contested Hawaii political match-up in 2010 was the race to replace Neil Abercrombie in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The special election held that May, after Abercrombie resigned to run for governor, featured three well-known, experienced candidates and resulted in the state sending a Republican to Washington for the first time in decades.
Maybe you’ve heard: Hanabusa and Djou have a rematch this year, too.
Yet, the 1st District election is important, too.
Given re-election rates for Hawaii’s congressional delegation — Djou is the only Hawaii incumbent to lose re-election — the winner will likely remain in the House for as long as they like and be considered a frontrunner to one day replace Daniel K. Inouye in the Senate.
And, while most political analysts consider the 1st District seat safely in the “blue” column, control of the House — initially thought likely to stay in Republican hands — is increasingly up in the air. Democrats would need to pick up 25 seats to wrest control.
On Thursday, former Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Rep. Steve Israel, who heads the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said the odds of that happening have improved through the selection of Rep. Paul Ryan as Mitt Romney’s running mate. As Israel put it, Ryan’s proposal to turn Medicare into a voucher program is a “down-ballot disaster for Republicans across the country.”
As Politico reported on Friday, top Republicans are meeting with vulnerable lawmakers to ensure that the GOP does not lose the House.
So with all the national attention, why is Hawaii’s 1st District race so quiet?
Both candidates told Civil Beat that, while media attention on the race may be low, the campaigns have been very much engaged.
“The level of activity and public interest in our campaign is not substantially different from our previous campaigns for the U.S. House,” Djou said Thursday via email (his campaign did not make him available for a phone interview). “We are working hard to change the direction of our government and establish a sense of fiscal responsibility in Congress.”
Hanabusa, who spoke from D.C. by phone Thursday, said her campaign has been in full swing for months.
“We are up on radio, as we were for the primary, and running ads again back after Labor Day,” said Hanabusa, adding that TV spots will air later this fall. “We have been sign-waving at different spots, and we are still doing coffee hours, a lot of canvassing — knock and talk — trying to get a feel for the voter bases.”
Hanabusa is using the same strategy she employed in 2010, when polls had her finishing a distant third in the special election but ended up defeating Case come election day.
“That gave us the indication that we would win,” she said. “We did split the vote, of course, but it was the fact that we had a ground game — talking to people, volunteers going out and getting feedback. I am a firm believer in that, that nothing beats face to face contact.”
For Djou, his campaign presence was limited by the fact that he was deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army Reserves from September 2011 until March of this year. Though others kept the campaign alive during his absence, the campaign was effectively suspended and Djou himself could not directly raise campaign funds.
Things picked up considerably in the weeks leading up to the primary and especially after the election. Djou’s Twitter account, for example (@Djou4Hawaii, 1,953 followers) has documented sign-waving appearances, group meetings and grassroots events. He’s also talked politics, expressing outrage at the national debt now reaching $16 trillion.
“Our campaign makes multiple public appearances almost every day,” said Djou. “We are willing and look forward to public televised debates. Our campaign is working with the TV stations to finalize schedules and debate details.”
Hanabusa confirmed that, saying negotiations are ongoing with the three network TV stations to arrange debate dates. Thus far, only two debates have been set: on Hawaii Public Radio on Sept. 25 and Dan Boylan’s PBS Hawaii show “Insights” on Oct. 25.
As for control of the U.S. House, Hanabusa does not think Democrats will win it back — although she would love to be in the majority. Ironically, Djou served in Pelosi’s House while Hanabusa serves under GOP Speaker John Boehner, who has often been stymied by the Tea Partiers who helped take back the House for Republicans in 2010.
Hanabusa does believe Democrats will pick up House seats, however, and points to rising poll numbers for President Barack Obama. But she does not think much money from national groups including super PACS will be spent on the 1st District race.
“Right now, the focus is on the U.S. Senate, where Republicans only need to hold their seats and win four more,” she said. “It’s a lot easier to concentrate money on a small number of seats than spread it around, which you would have to do in the House races.”
Asked about mainland money and political analysis, Djou said, “Our campaign is not focused on the national press or mainland interest groups. We are concerned about the future of Hawaii and we are fighting hard to make sure the next generation in Hawaii is not left worst off.”
The word most spoken by Hanabusa during the 2010 campaign was “values” — as in Hawaii values — while Djou said the word “taxes” over and over again — as in taxes need to be cut. Both candidates are pro-defense spending, however, given Hawaii’s geo-political location and sizable military presence.
This year, Djou has identified the Economy, Budget and Spending, Healthcare, Ethics, National Security, Environment and Energy, Education, Social Security, Faith and Family, the Second Amendment and Rail as his priorities.
The economy is his top priority, and lowering taxes are again part of the solution. Here’s what he says on his website:
Our economy needs a plan, but those in Congress seem more interested in scoring political points than addressing our community’s concerns. Small businesses are responsible for almost 65 percent of all new jobs. Before small businesses can begin hiring new workers, they need economic certainty. Certainty doesn’t come from higher taxes. I have never voted for a tax increase, and will continue to make lowering taxes and simplifying the tax code my priority. Low taxes, fiscal responsibility in Washington, and tax relief for families and small businesses will stimulate the economy and fuel a more robust economic recovery.
Values again leads the list of issues on Hanabusa’s website: Fighting for our Kupuna – Protecting Social Security and Medicare, Affordable Healthcare, Jobs and the Economy, Education, Energy and the Environment, National Security and Veterans. Here’s what she has to say about our kupuna:
In Hawaii, we learn from an early age to treat our kupuna with respect and accept responsibility for their care. The Republican proposals would insult and abandon our kupuna, threatening their livelihoods by taking away vital sources of retirement income and stability. These short-term approaches will adversely affect all communities and families, asking us to simply ignore our long-established national promise to care for our retirees and the millions who depend on Social Security and Medicare. I will continue to work hard to ensure these programs remain accessible and financially solvent so these benefits will be available for our seniors and for future generations.
For more on the candidates’ views, read Charles Djou Answers Congressional District 1 Survey and Colleen Hanabusa Answers Congressional District 1 Survey:
In the 2010 special election, Djou won with 67,610 votes, defeating Hanabusa by about 14,800 (or 39.4 to 30.8 percent). But Case took 27.6 percent of the vote, or 47,391 votes.
In the 2010 general election, Hanabusa won with 94,140 votes, defeating Djou by about 11,400 votes. Some of the Case vote went to both candidates, and Hanabusa was probably helped most with the greater turnout in the general.
Both candidates sailed past their lesser-known primary candidates last month, with Hanabusa winning with 92,136 votes and Djou with 25,984. In the general election, voters do not have to choose a party preference, so the primary numbers do not necessarily portend the outcome Nov. 6.
Hanabusa is not taking re-election for granted. She wasn’t elected to Congress until her fourth try, after all; besides losing to Djou in the 2010 special election, she lost to Mazie Hirono in 2006 and to Case in a 2003 special election.
The next round of federal campaign donation reports won’t be available until next month, but according to Federal Election Commission reports covering April 1 to June 30, Hanabusa has raised and spent more than Djou. Hanabusa’s contributors include labor unions, health care and defense interests, while Djou has attracted very little PAC money.
Speaking of numbers, there are two other factors to consider in the Djou-Hanabusa rematch: How will the rail vote impact the race? And what about reapportionment?
Djou could be helped by the anti-rail vote that wants to elect Ben Cayetano mayor of Honolulu. Hanabusa, meanwhile, has been spending a lot of her energies in Kapolei and Ko Olina, which used to be in the 2nd Congressional District but are now in the 1st District. Kapolei, of course, is where the rail project is set to begin construction.
Which brings up one more irony about this race: When Hanabusa was elected in 2010, she was pressured by Republicans to sell her Ko Olina home and move into the 1st District that she represented — which she did.