Hawaii special-election rules give GOP hope

Hawaii special-election rules give GOP hope

Republicans are hopeful the rules governing Hawaii’s special election will give them an opportunity to pick up Rep. Neil Abercrombie’s (D-Hawaii) seat.

While confusion remains over the date of the special election, it will be a “winner-takes-all” format, meaning it’s an open race without a primary and with no runoff — the candidate with a plurality of votes wins.


Democrats have two candidates in the race: former Rep. Ed Case (D) and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. But Honolulu Councilor Charles Djou is the only candidate on the GOP side.

“This dramatically helps me,” Djou said. “I am and will be the only serious Republican in this race.” He added: “In a special election, all I need is a plurality.”

Djou said he expects to have raised more than $300,000 by the end of the quarter. Both Democrats were trailing Djou in the last quarter, although Hanabusa is expected to have help from EMILY’s List.

 “It is beneficial [for Republicans] because we’ve got one candidate who will not only take the Republican support but is very likely to take a lot of the independent vote, given the trends that we’re seeing,” said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC).

Djou “doesn’t need to compete with any other moderate candidate, where Ed Case and Colleen would have to be fighting with each other,” she pointed out.

 “They dislike each other already,” Burgos added.

 Case and Hanabusa faced each in the special election for the 2nd House district in 2003. After winning the seat, Case became unpopular with his fellow Democrats when he challenged Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) for the party’s nomination in 2006.

“There is some residual bad feelings toward Ed Case among the die-hard Democrats,” said Richard Borreca, a columnist with The Honolulu Star-Bulletin. “He had really let everyone think that he was going to run for reelection [to the House]. He just sort of woke up one day and said, ‘Gee, I’m running against Akaka because Akaka’s too old.’ That ticked off a lot of people.”

With Case and Hanabusa splitting the Democratic vote, the door could open for Djou.

“Because it’s a winner-take-all, the Republicans have a little bit more oomph in it than they usually would,” said Borreca.

He added that another scenario could see Case take votes away from the Republican Djou. Case was considered a Blue Dog Democrat, Borreca said, “so it could be that Case and Djou split the independent vote and Hanabusa walks in with the Democratic vote.”

That’s the only scenario that the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) seems to be publicly considering. “We’re confident that this district will continue to be represented by a Democrat,” said Andrew Stone, a spokesman for the committee.

 In the meantime, there’s still confusion about the date of the special election. It would need to be scheduled within 60 days after it’s formally called, according to elections officials, but that can’t happen until Abercrombie officially leaves his seat.

 Abercrombie announced last week he will resign his seat to concentrate on his gubernatorial bid, but he didn’t give a resignation date.

The congressman intends to hold on to his seat until at least the end of January in order to complete some “unfinished business,” said Dave Helfert, an Abercrombie spokesman. “He wants to be here for a vote on healthcare.”

 Abercrombie had been expected to serve out the remainder of his term, despite his ongoing gubernatorial campaign.

 “He fully intended not to resign but to finish out his term,” Helfert said, but noted Abercrombie’s gubernatorial campaign took him away from Washington.

 “The biggest single problem is Hawaii is 5,000 miles away. It takes at least 12 hours or more to get there. Running for governor is a full-time deal and being a member of Congress is a full-time deal. He fought himself, but he thought that, ‘If I can’t do both well, I’m not going to do them both,’ ” Helfert said. “It was a tough decision for him to walk out in the middle of his term.”

 Hanabusa faces a similar dilemma. The State Legislature reconvenes in January, and observers say the role of state Senate president is far from ceremonial. She may need to step down in order to focus on her special-election campaign.

 However, she’ll only need to do that if the vote is set for the spring. One proposal being floated in Hawaii is to put off the special election until September, when the parties would have held their primaries.

But Borreca said that would be a tough sell, even as the state struggles with a ballooning deficit. “We only have two votes [in the House] and we want them both,” he said.

 While Republicans are excited about their prospects of winning the special election, a victory won’t guarantee their party will hold the seat.

Abercrombie was first elected to the House via a special election in 1986, but he lost the Democratic primary on the same day and didn't compete in the general election. He went on to serve on the Honolulu City Council before returning to the House in 1990.

This story was updated on Dec. 16, 2009, at 6:55 p.m.