GOP expects to win Hawaii House seat, but the victory may be short-lived

Republicans are expected to stop their special election losing streak with a win Saturday in Hawaii, where two Democrats on the ballot will likely split the vote and hand a victory to the GOP.

A Republican victory could be short-lived, however, as Democrats marshal their resources to take back what has been a longtime Democratic seat in November. The vacancy was created by the resignation of Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who is running for governor.

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With a victory earlier this week in Pennsylvania, Democrats have now won the last seven competitive special elections, a streak that has worried Republicans looking to take back control of the House in November. (The GOP captured a seat last month in a heavily Republican district in Georgia that was not seriously challenged by Democrats.)

In Hawaii, Republican Charles Djou has been leading in the polls over Democrats Ed Case and Colleen Hanabusa. The special election had no primary, and a dispute between national Democrats, who support Case, and Hawaii’s two senators, who support Hanabusa, have led to both remaining on the ballot. The Honolulu-based 1st congressional district is also notable because it is where President Barack Obama was raised.

Case is a former congressman who left office to challenge Sen Daniel Akaka(D) in a 2006 primary, which he lost. Akaka is now backing Hanabusa, the president of the state senate.

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.

Republicans pounced on the DCCC’s decision earlier this month to stop investing in the race. “The DCCC is giving up in a district as blue as this one due to their own blunders and a fed-up constituency that rejected their reckless agenda of higher taxes, negligent spending and government takeovers,” a National Republican Congressional Committee spokeswoman, Joanna Burgos, said at the time.

Yet in an interview Friday, Burgos was reluctant to make predictions about November, saying it was premature to talk about the GOP’s chances of keeping the seat before the election Saturday and the Democratic primary in November.

“We think Charlie [Djou] has run a great campaign,” she said. She added that his success showed the possibility of “winning over a new electorate.”

The campaign is also unique because it is a mail-in election, meaning that although voters have until 6 p.m. local time to submit their ballots, a vast majority have already been cast. 

Early voting led Djou, a Honolulu city councilman, to tell The Hill in an interview last week that “this election is pretty much over.” The comment brought criticism in Hawaii, but a spokesman for his campaign, Dylan Nonaka, said Djou “definitely wasn’t saying he had won by any stretch.”

Nonaka also pushed back on 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.” Obama won 70 percent of the vote in 2008.

“In a favorable environment,” Nonaka said, “a Republican is very competitive in this seat.” 

Jordan Fabian and Sean J. Miller contributed to this story