Democrats foresaw loss in Hawaii

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee effectively knew the party had no chance of winning the Hawaii special election when it withdrew from the race.

The vote is being conducted entirely through mail-in ballots. The day the DCCC announced it was pulling out of the state, the Hawaii Office of Elections said an estimated 90,000 ballots of the 317,337 mailed out had been received.

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That means voter turnout is now at slightly more than 28 percent, and because it’s a special election it’s not expected to climb much higher.

The turnout figure, combined with public polling of the three-way race and the winner-take-all election format, meant the Democrats knew they effectively had no chance of defeating Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R).

“This election is pretty much over,” Djou told The Hill. 

In a recent poll by the Honolulu Advertiser, Djou led with 36 percent, former Rep. Ed Case (D-Hawaii) was at 28 percent and state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D) was in third at 22 percent.

The two Democratic candidates remain on the ballot without national party support.

The DCCC, which had spent more than $300,000 on the race, declined to comment further than its Monday statement, where the party said it was withdrawing because “local Democrats were unable to work out their differences.”

But privately the party worried that Case and Hanabusa would split the Democratic vote and hand the Democratic-leaning district to Republicans.

“Mathematically, it becomes next to impossible [for Democrats] to win this race unless you stuff the ballot box,” Djou said.

Still, he’s going to run TV ads and plans to “campaign hard” until the voting deadline. 

“I’m not calling it a day by any means,” he said. “But the bulk of the ballots have already been turned in. It is almost anticlimactic.”

Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) resigned his seat to concentrate on his gubernatorial run. The winner of the May 22 special election will have to run again in the November election in order to remain in Congress.

Djou said his campaign has stopped trying to persuade voters and is now focused on making sure supporters have turned in their mail-in ballots. 

“Now it’s just sort of a waiting game,” he said. “If this is a close election that’s going to be decided by a couple percentage points, you fight to the very end. I’ll leave no stone unturned.”

While the DCCC was actively supporting Case’s campaign, Djou said he didn’t receive any direct assistance from the National Republican Congressional Committee. Some members contributed to his campaign, he said. But the committee didn’t have “any independent expenditures in this race.”

“If we manage to pull this off, it’ll be all the more sweet,” he said.

Observers say that Djou has run an efficient campaign while the two Democrats have had the same message of strong support for President Barack Obama’s agenda. 

“It’s almost as if Colleen and Ed have been running the same ads,” Djou said.

The district went 70 percent for Obama in 2008, the same year Abercrombie won 77 percent of the vote against an unfunded opponent. “I respect President Obama, but I’m not going to be a rubber stamp for him,” Djou said.

Djou is aware that it will be difficult for a Republican to hold the seat in November, but he’s confident that the same dynamics that are contributing to his likely victory in the special election will still exist in six months. 

“Colleen and Ed both dislike me, but they hate each other,” Djou said.

While Djou is unlikely to face a primary challenger, Hanabusa and Case are expected to face off again in the Democratic primary in September. Democrats had wanted Hanabusa to withdraw from the special election in order clear the path for Case, but she declined.

“Ed and Colleen still have to go through each other before they’ll come for me,” Djou said.

The Hanabusa camp hinted she was staying in the race to help her chances in November.

A local strategist close to Hanabusa told the Advertiser the campaign has heard the message from the DCCC to step aside for the interest of the party.

“It has not fallen on deaf ears,” the strategist said. “But we understand our community better than anybody and, come November, there will be a Democrat there.”

Another sign that Hanabusa is planning ahead: She rolled out the endorsement of Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) on Tuesday, long after his backing would have been able to help her in the special election.


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