In the News: GOP Won Hawaii By Focusing On Case
National Journal Reid Wilson
Rep.-elect Charles Djou’s (R) upset win in HI 01 this weekend, and Dems’ decision several weeks ago to abandon the race, was the result of a GOP decision to focus their fire on ex-Rep. Ed Case (D), who both parties saw as the stronger Dem running.
Party strategists on both sides acknowledge Case had the name recognition and the political acumen to beat Djou in a one-on-one matchup. The DCCC quietly helped his campaign, while GOP-affiliated groups, most notably a group called Independent Women’s Voice, focused their TV ads and mail campaigns entirely on Case, rather than on state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa(R).
The GOP’s entire strategy hinged on treating the race as a one-on-one contest. Case had soft name-ID, according to partisan polling. His support came from independents and those who lean Dem. All the party needed to do was win over the soft GOPers to build a winning coalition.
In the end, the strategy of targeting Case accomplished its goal; Djou took 39% of the vote to Hanabusa’s 31%. Case came in third place, with 28%.
But Dems face deeper problems even as they work to convince the media they can win back the district. The party tried to nudge Hanabusa out of the race, arguing she has a ceiling much lower than Case’s.
Hanabusa’s second-place finish will complicate those efforts. Local Dems are already angry with the national party for meddling, and with labor and the party establishment — including Sens. Daniel Inouye (D) and Daniel Akaka (D) — solidly behind Hanabusa, Case faces an uphill fight to win the Dem primary.
What’s more, the Sept. 18 primary gives the eventual winner just 6 weeks to stock up on much-needed cash before a general election. Djou already has $200K in the bank for a general contest, giving him an important financial head start.
Dems are beginning to consider the need for some kind of compromise candidate. Hanabusa is still unlikely to win a general election, they believe, and Case will have trouble winning a primary. Though official behind-the-scenes talks have yet to begin, they are likely to start in earnest in the future.
Dems don’t have a lot of time; the filing deadline is July 20. DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen is optimistic about his chances of winning the seat back this Nov., despite the fact that HI has never booted an incumbent. If Dems want to change that streak and back up their chairman’s claims, they have to move fast to heal what is, at the moment, a splintered party.
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(So Case and Hanabusa spent the entire campaign arguing about which of them should drop out and now the National Democrats are launching the Primary season by demanding they BOTH drop out.)