Democrat Mark Takai has defeated Republican Charles Djou in the race to represent urban Oahu in Congress for the next two years.
With all precincts reporting Tuesday evening, Takai was up over Djou, 51 percent to 48 percent. Djou picked up a little ground in the third wave of results that were released just after 10 p.m. but not enough to flip the results.
“We started this race Aug. 7, 2013 — 15 months ago,” Takai told supporters at the Japanese Cultural Center in Moiliili, where Democrats gathered to celebrate their big night. “An absolute marathon. A long, long race. It actually felt like sprinting every single day.”
Takai thanked Djou for a campaign that he said focused on issues. He also said the race was about values — about caring for keiki and kupuna.
Takai concluded by thanking his family and said he looked forward to working with a united Democratic congressional delegation on behalf of Hawaii.
Djou gave a heartfelt concession speech to a roomful of supporters at his campaign headquarters in Kalihi moments after calling Takai to congratulate him.
“I believe that we needed bipartisan representation in our delegation. I believe that our government needs change and that this one-party system is failing us,” Djou said. “But while I believe in all of these things, I also believe that we live in a wonderful nation. And one of the core principles in this beautiful country that we call the United States of America is our government is ultimately governed by the people.
“We gave it our all tonight and we tried our hardest,” he said. “But that dream that I have, that belief that I have for building a strong two-party democracy, changing our government, transforming how Hawaii operates, is going to have to be deferred for another day.”
The 1st Congressional District race quickly became one of the most closely watched contests in Hawaii after the Aug. 9 primary.
Takai, a state representative for the past 20 years, had to beat six other Democrats to move on to the general election, depleting his campaign account in the process. Djou, who emerged from the primary unscathed, held a sizable financial advantage this summer.
But political action committees on the mainland and donors in Hawaii quickly poured hundreds of thousands of dollars into Takai’s campaign to help him take on Djou, a former Honolulu City Councilman and state lawmaker who served in Congress for seven months after winning a special election in 2010.
By Oct. 15, Djou had more than twice as much cash in his campaign account — $626,000 — but Takai had raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars more than him.
The race was close throughout the election. Civil Beat’s poll in September had Djou up 4 percentage points, but Takai closed the gap and they were tied in the October poll.
As November neared, super PACs started dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into attack ads that both candidates had to deflect and defend. Djou supporters went after Takai’s vote in the state House on a bill to tax pensions and Takai supporters went after Djou’s votes in Congress related to welfare programs.
The seat opened up this year when Rep. Colleen Hanabusa decided to run for the U.S. Senate. She lost to the incumbent, Sen. Brian Schatz, by fewer than 1,800 votes in a dramatic Democratic primary that was ultimately settled in Puna a week after the rest of the state voted because of delays caused by Tropical Storm Iselle.
Takai, 47, and Djou, 44, are centrists in their parties and have much in common. Both are family men who grew up in Hawaii, serve in the military and have years of experience in elected office.
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.
And both candidates want to protect entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, but have said reform is needed.
There are fundamental differences between the two though.
Takai is definitely more of a friend to public workers, buoyed early this election season by an endorsement from the 13,000-strong Hawaii State Teachers Association and other unions.
HSTA President Wil Okabe told reporters Tuesday night that Takai understands public education because his wife is a teacher and he graduated from Pearl City High School. Djou is a Punahou graduate.
Djou wants to exempt Hawaii from the Jones Act to reduce the cost of living and break up shipping monopolies, but Takai sees the maritime law as key to protecting jobs and national security.
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 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.
The 1st Congressional District includes roughly 670,000 people in Honolulu, Kapolei, Pearl City and Hawaii Kai. Almost 335,000 were registered to vote in the primary.