- The Washington Times - Friday, May 21, 2010

HONOLULU | Democrats won’t budge in their family feud in this usually Democratic state, and that could result in Hawaii electing its first Republican congressman in decades.

The GOP is hoping to celebrate a victory by Honolulu City Council member Charles Djou on Saturday in a special election against two Democrats - one a former congressman himself - who, polls say, are splitting their party’s vote. Not only would that mean the loss of a Democratic seat in Congress, it would be an embarrassment for President Obama, who was born in Hawaii and carried the state with 72 percent of the vote just two years ago.

“I think the people of Hawaii are learning, just as the American people are learning, that we do not have to follow the marching orders of the old boy network and the establishment,” Mr. Djou said this week in a TV interview. “This congressional campaign is an opportunity for the voters of Hawaii to say we own this seat, not the Democratic Party.”

Prominent Democrats acknowledge the possibility of losing the seat on Saturday, which would break a winning streak of seven for the party in special House elections since President Obama took office.

“Yeah,” was Rep. Chris Van Hollen’s blunt response Thursday when asked if the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee was writing off the special election. Mr. Van Hollen is the chairman of the committee.

“That would be a nightmare,” John Waihee said at a recent news conference, standing alongside fellow Democratic Govs. Ben Cayetano and George Ariyoshi.

The former governors who ran Hawaii for most of the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s were unified in their message of voting for “a Democrat.” But much like the rest of the party here, they were split on whom to support. Mr. Waihee and Mr. Ariyoshi back state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, while Mr. Cayetano favors former congressman Ed Case.

And no one is backing off, which has led to infighting among Democrats locally and nationally, and left the door open for Mr. Djou.

Ms. Hanabusa, Mr. Djou and Mr. Case are the most well-known among 14 candidates seeking the seat from which longtime Democratic Rep. Neal Abercrombie resigned in late February to run for governor. Mr. Abercrombie has remained neutral in the congressional contest.

Voters who received ballots in the all-mail election almost three weeks ago have until Saturday to return them.

The two Democrats are splitting their party’s votes in a district where Mr. Abercrombie has won 10 general elections since 1990 with an average tally of 62 percent.

Mr. Case, a moderate Democrat who represented the 2nd Congressional District from late 2002 through 2006, has been scorned by Hawaii’s senior Sen. Daniel K. Inouye and much of the state’s Democratic establishment for unsuccessfully challenging the 2006 re-election of the state’s junior senator, Daniel K. Akaka.

Those leaders are backing the more liberal Ms. Hanabusa. Despite universal support from Hawaii’s powerful labor unions, she has struggled in voter polls.

Mr. Djou, by contrast, has run a disciplined campaign focused on taxes and government spending at a time when Hawaii’s tourism-driven economy remains troubled. He bashes President Obama’s health care and economic stimulus policies, and in a radio interview last month said he is running to take the “exact opposite” positions from Mr. Obama, even while acknowledging the president’s popularity in his native state.

A Djou victory could very well be reversed in November’s balloting for a full congressional term, when he will be matched up against only one Democrat - most likely Mr. Case or Ms. Hanabusa - in what will remain a strongly Democratic district representing urban Honolulu.

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