WASHINGTON — Don’t try to sell Cam Cavasso on a blue wave in the November midterms.
The Republican running against Democrat Ed Case for Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District says the surge is red, and that he fully expects it to break on Oahu’s shores.
Cavasso is so certain, in fact, that he’s already planning to bring his one-man canoe to The Beltway so he can paddle down the Potomac River.
“The nation is shifting and Hawaii is shifting, I see the signs,” Cavasso said.
One sign in particular, he says, is a recent poll from the University of Hawaii’s Public Policy Center that found that President Donald Trump’s 28 percent approval rating in the state is roughly the same — and slightly ahead — of the Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Trump’s rating was also slightly higher than the 26 percent approval rating poll participants gave Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who’s also a Democrat.
“I expect to win this election,” Cavasso assured. “Hawaii needs representation in Washington, D.C., that relates to President Trump and the Republican Congress.”
Hope springs eternal for the 68-year-old Cavasso, who hasn’t held elected office since 1991.
But he faces a nearly insurmountable challenge as a Republican in a state long dominated by Democrats.
Voters in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District, which represents urban Oahu, gave Democratic Hillary Clinton one of the most lopsided margins over Trump outside of the District of Columbia.
Cavasso was elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives in 1984. He won three consecutive elections, including in 1986 and 1988.
Since then Cavasso has lost four major races, including the Republican primary for lieutenant governor in 2002 and three general election tries for U.S. Senate.
In 2004, Cavasso ran as a Republican against U.S. Sen. Dan Inouye, who at the time was Hawaii’s most powerful politician. He lost badly to Inouye, 72.7 percent to 20.2 percent.
“In the United States we benefit from competition.” — Cam Cavasso
He ran against Inouye again in 2010 with a nearly identical result, losing 71.9 percent to 20.7 percent.
In 2014, two years after Inouye died, Cavasso took another shot at the Senate, this time in a special election against Brian Schatz, who had been appointed in 2012 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie to fill Inouye’s seat.
The losing trend continued. Schatz beat Cavasso 66.8 percent to 26.5 percent.
Cavasso said he targets the big races because he wants to send a message that the Republican Party isn’t going away.
When he ran against Inouye in 2004 he said he was concerned the senator was becoming too liberal in his views, particularly as it related to his support for same-sex marriage and a woman’s right to have an abortion.
Although he looked up to the senator he said it was his duty to run against him so that he could put the senior senator on the spot.
“We ran a race to contrast the values that Dan Inouye had lost,” Cavasso said. “In the United States we benefit from competition. I knew full well in that race what the end result would be, but it was necessary to stand up and speak out on the issues.”
But the loss wasn’t all bad, Cavasso said. He takes at least some credit for helping Republican John Thune oust Democratic stalwart Tom Daschle in 2004.
At the time, Daschle was the long-time incumbent senator for South Dakota, and one one of the more powerful figures in Washington, having served as his chamber’s majority leader.
Cavasso said that when he challenged Inouye, it forced the Hawaii senator to turn his attention back home rather than throw his political heft behind Daschle’s campaign in South Dakota. Daschle would end up losing the race by fewer than 5,000 votes.
“It’s much bigger than we realized,” Cavasso said. “We never know the whole story.”
Neal Milner, a retired political science professor from the University of Hawaii Manoa laughed when he heard the anecdote and used a single word to describe the story — “chutzpuh.”
Milner described Cavasso as “an old war horse” who has traditional Republican views that one might find in a candidate running for office anywhere else in the country.
Given Cavasso’s political leanings, Milner said it’s important for him to concoct a positive narrative for his campaign, especially in a state where his ilk doesn’t gain much ground. The story about Daschle, he said, doesn’t have to be true. It just has to be convincing, most of all to Cavasso.
“Those are the kinds of things that continue to drive people to run for office,” Milner said. “You need that kind of optimism and those kinds of responses to keep going and move forward.”
Cavasso is pro-life, anti-regulation and wants to make the president’s tax cuts permanent.
He’s also a climate change skeptic despite living on an island that’s already experiencing the effects of rising global temperatures, from increased coastal erosion to the massive bleaching of coral reefs.
Juxtapose that with Andria Tupola, the Republican running against Hawaii Gov. David Ige, who says the state should be doing more to adapt to a changing climate, which includes exploring more options for renewable energy.
Cavasso is more worried about what would happen if the price of gasoline were to increase due to stricter regulations.
“We are an independent nation, an independent state and we need to protect our people, our economy, their work and their jobs,” Cavasso said.
That doesn’t mean he doesn’t care about the environment, he added. If there are studies that show the environment is being harmed he would be open to seeking solutions.
Climate change, however, is not one that he thinks is valid despite near unanimous scientific consensus.
He pointed to the 1968 book, “The Population Bomb” by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, that argued the earth was near its carrying capacity.
According to the book, which sold millions of copies, there were too many people on the planet and mass starvation would soon wipe out mass swatches of humanity. The dire prediction never came to pass despite global fears that the planet was already overpopulated.
Cavasso said he sees the same pattern playing out with climate change today.
“I have come to the strong suspicion that the popular press is only presenting one side of the picture right now and that there’s a second,” Cavasso said. “Part of my job in Washington is to help make sure that all sides are represented.”
If elected, Cavasso he says he’ll bring the Hawaii idea of aloha to D.C. much the same way the late U.S. Sen. Dan Akaka did while he was alive.
Cavasso said Democrats have gone too far in their criticisms of the right.
He specifically called out U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono for her calls to American men to “shut up and step up” in light of the sexual assault allegations levied against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh by Christine Blasey Ford, who said Kavanaugh attacked her while the two were in high school.
“The craziness that calls him a racist is the fallback position for those who really are racists.” — Cam Cavasso on Donald Trump
Cavasso doesn’t mind Trump’s harsh words. He said it’s just part of the presidential agenda, which he said Trump delivers with a sense of verve and humor.
“Donald Trump’s message is to wreck political correctness,” Cavasso said. “It’s hard to do that with a gentle word, but it’s easy to do it with a smile.”
Cavasso similarly dismissed any notion that Trump is a racist.
In a winding explanation that touched on everything from his own upbringing to Native Hawaiian sovereignty, Cavasso said the president is blind to race and instead blamed the Democrats, and Hillary Clinton, in particular, for playing the race card.
Cavasso, who is white, described himself as an American Hawaiian from Waimanalo and said he has 11 “hapa-haole” grandchildren, meaning they’re of mixed ethnicities.
“Trump appeals to all people,” Cavasso said. “The craziness that calls him a racist is the fallback position for those who really are racists, such as Hillary Clinton and the Democrats who want to divide the races.”
He then went on to say that he does not support federal recognition for Native Hawaiians, which is in stark contrast to Case, who has said he supports a government-to-government relationship.
Creating a sovereign entity, Cavasso said, would not be in the best interests of Hawaiians. It would also create a “race-based nation.”
He still wants to stick to his Hawaii values even if he wins a seat in Congress.
That includes participating in the annual Molokai to Oahu canoe race, which he says he’ll do as long as his body permits. The same is true, he said, for his political ambitions.
“I am committed to Hawaii and our United States for as long as I live,” he said.
Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes.
You can also comment directly on this story by scrolling down a little further. Comments are subject to approval and we may not publish every one.
Civil Beat is a small nonprofit newsroom, and we’re committed to a paywall-free website and subscription-free content because we believe in journalism as a public service.
That’s why donations from readers like you are essential to our continued existence.
Help keep our journalism free for all readers by becoming a monthly member of Civil Beat today.