By Ian Swanson
Republican Charles Djou won 39.5 percent of the vote to take a seat vacated by former Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is running for governor of Hawaii.
Djou benefited from two Democrats in the release, who split their party’s vote. Colleen Hanabusa, the president of the state senate, took 30.8 percent of the vote while former Rep. Ed Case held 27.6 percent.
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele hailed the victory by Djou, a Honolulu city councilman, in a statement that noted the victory came in Obama’s hometown, and in a district Obama carried in 2008 with 70 percent of the vote.
Democrats believe they will retake the seat this fall. The party did not have a primary in Hawaii, and Case and Hanabusa each refused to get out of the other’s way for the special election.
Democrats had won the last seven competitive special elections in a row, including a victory Thursday in a Pennsylvania district where Republicans had hoped to end their losing streak. (The GOP captured a seat last month in a heavily Republican district in Georgia that was not seriously challenged by Democrats.)
Both of Hawaii’s senators supported Hanabusa against Case, who earned their ire by challenging Sen. Daniel Akaka(D) in a 2006 primary, which he lost.
When national Democrats were unable to force Hanabusa from the race earlier this month, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee effectively pulled out of the district, deciding to save its resources for the November general election after Democrats pick their candidate in a primary.
“We’re looking at November in Hawaii,” DCCC chairman Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.) told reporters on Thursday. “I can confidently predict that the Democrats together will get a majority of the vote just like the Democratic candidate in November will get a majority of the vote,” Van Hollen said.
The campaign was also unique because it was a mail-in election. Voters had until 6 p.m. local time on Saturday to submit their ballots.
A spokesman for Djou’s campaign, Dylan Nonaka, pushed back earlier this week against the DCCC message that Djou would only hold the seat for a few months, until a Democrat with a unified party wins it back in November.
Nonaka noted that an incumbent Hawaiian congressman, senator or governor has never been beaten in an election in the state’s history. And, pointing out that President George W. Bush won 47 percent of the vote in 2004, he said “the district is not as Democratic as people make it out to be.”
“In a favorable environment,” Nonaka said, “a Republican is very competitive in this seat.”