Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

How do you solve a problem like Hawaii?

Over the past month, it's become increasingly clear that, unless something major changes, Democrats are likely to come up short in the May 22 special election in Hawaii's 1st district.

That political fact of life, which has set in among the smart strategist set in Washington over the last 10 days or so, is due longstanding in-state rivalries -- much of Hawaii Democratic establishment including its two U.S. Senators don't like former Rep. Ed Case (D) -- as well as a special election quirk that puts Case, state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D) and Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R) all on the same ballot.

In a last ditch attempt to influence the race, the White House leaked a survey out to Politico's Ben Smith last night that suggested that Hanabusa not only couldn't win but that by staying in the race she would almost certainly cost the party a seat.

The numbers -- Djou 39 percent, Case 31 percent, Hanabusa 20 percent among the most likely of voters-- were a rough echo of what the Honolulu Advertiser poll, released Sunday night, showed.

In conversations with exasperated Democratic strategists, there appear to be four possible scenarios that will play out over the last two and a half weeks of the race. Here they are (ranked in their likelihood of happening):

* National Democrats pull out: The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $314,000 on television ads attacking Djou, according to the latest reports filed with the Federal Election Commission. (The National Republican Congressional Committee hasn't spent a dime on independent expenditures in the race yet.) The problem for the DCCC is that if they continue to spend at the current rate in Hawaii, total spending will go well beyond $500,000 -- a significant expenditure for a seat that gave President Obama 70 percent in 2008. And, with the fall playing field expected to be one of the widest in recent memory, the DCCC is going to need every available dollar to limit party losses. It's possible then that national Democrats walk away, believing that there is little point in throwing good money after bad in a seat the party is likely to win back in the fall. Said one senior House leadership aide: "Without a game changer like the Hawaii senators getting Hanabusa out of the race or a major endorsement, House Democrats may only have one move left and that's to get out of the race altogether."

* Convince Hanabusa to drop out: For the better part of the last month, the White House and the DCCC have sent not-so-subtle signals through a variety of channels that they believe Hanabusa needs to drop out. The problem? Sens. Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka, who control Democratic politics in the state, are firmly behind Hanabusa's candidacy and have done everything they can to keep national Democrats from meddling. The Senators' support for Hanabusa can be traced back to 2006 when Case challenged Akaka in the Senate primary, a move that did not sit well at all with the Hawaii Democratic establishment. "I don't get what they're thinking," said one senior Democratic official who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to be candid. "This race should be a layup for Dems, but the home state Senators are allowing local politics to trump national Democratic interests." Added the source: "They're underestimating how this will impact us all heading into the midterms."

* An Obama endorsement: President Obama could endorse Case, sending a signal to Democrats -- from the activist level on up -- that he thinks the former Congressman is the better choice. But, Obama knows better than almost anyone the sensitivities of the national party dipping into Hawaii politics (this is his home congressional district, after all) and he isn't likely to risk such a public rebuke of the state's two senators. Obama, too, may be wary to involve himself following his last minute trip to Massachusetts earlier this year to try and save the flailing candidacy of state Attorney General Martha Coakley (D) in the Senate special election. Following Coakley's loss there were a string of stories that wondered whether Obama had lost his campaign mojo -- pointing out that Massachusetts was the third straight statewide race (Virginia and New Jersey were the other two) where an Obama endorsement hadn't turned the tide. The Obama team is very aware of the need to polish his image in advance of the 2012 re-election race and likely view his involvement in the Hawaii special as unnecessary and potentially risky.

* DCCC double-down: Some party strategists have suggested the way to win in Hawaii is for the DCCC to ramp up its spending considerably, ensuring that Djou's image takes a major hit in advance of the May 22 special. In talking to sources familiar with DCCC strategy, however, it's regarded as a near-impossibility that the committee will start spending more in the face of an electoral dynamic that has created something close to an unwinnable situation.

By Chris Cillizza  |  May 4, 2010; 11:06 AM ET
Categories:  House  | Tags: Barack Obama, Charles Djou, Colleen Hanabusa, Ed Case, Hawaii, special election  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Times Square arrest and the politics of national security
Next: Primary prediction contest!

Comments

This analysis misses the biggest issue in this race ... Case is basically Liebermann on the issues. He would be a Republican in any other state. Progressives and traditional Democrats don't like him and many will be unable to hold their noses and vote for him when the stakes are relatively low at this time.

It's not so much that he challenged the establishment as the fact that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing, only using his party affiliation as political means; Republicans are basically shut out of Hawaii politics.

Given his higher political profile over the years, his name has higher recognition among the apolitical, which is almost surely driving his current polling. But the bottom line is BOTH Case and Hanabusa would beat Djou handily in the absence of the other.

Posted by: whappo | May 5, 2010 6:17 PM | Report abuse

This analysis ignores the effectiveness of the DCCC ads. Their negative approach is more likely helping Djou in Hawaii, which reacts defensively to negative campaigns and the intrusion of outside "experts."

The DCCC also leaked its preference for Case, which undermined the endorsements of Hanabusa by Hawaii's respected senators.

Hawaii went from two liberal votes in the US House to one with the resignation of Neil Abercrombie. With Hanabusa we would be back to two liberal votes. With Case it would be maybe 1.5 votes. With Djou it would be zero votes, with his conservative vote canceling that of liberal Mazie Hirono.

Posted by: GregKnudsen | May 5, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

" Dems in Peril of Losing Obama's Birthplace " I didn't know the Democratic Party represented Kenya . Tch, tch, I wonder how the Republicans will overcome this ? Well , I would suggest we might get an inkling this November , or the following January. As the Unemployed who had no fault in finding themselves in that situation , are joined in the line by those who put them there. The corrupt politicians , who thought they'd never be replaced. But of course if you were around as long as Dodd, you've got plenty of Lobbyist's money put away, and a castle in Ireland where it's almost impossible from which to be extradicted . 2 year term limits cries out for enactment even more today.

Posted by: puck-101 | May 5, 2010 6:26 AM | Report abuse

RE: Dems in danger of losing Obama's birthplace district. Democrats are likely to lose Hawaii's 1st district -- which went 70% for Obama in 2008.

That's a lot of crap! Obummer was born in Nigeria!!

Posted by: liberty76 | May 5, 2010 1:22 AM | Report abuse

This is what we get when allowed the liberal media to screw us over during the pres elections...you better know your candidates.

We have a Marxist, Socialist thug waking up every morning, smiling and saying "Let me see how I can rip and tear the Constitution and stick it to Americans today - ain't life sweet." Freak. Fraud. Liar. OUT OUT OUT

Posted by: joesmithdefend | May 5, 2010 12:00 AM | Report abuse


I just want to make one comment


No one in New York is terrorized by the Times Square bomb.


A few weeks ago, there was a dead body lying on the sidewalk in New York - a videocamera taped 20 people walking OVER the body and no one cared.

That's what would have happened in Times Square - people wouldn't have cared - they would have just walked over the bodies - maybe kicked them a little.


In New York, the rats carry knives.... for a reason.

.

Posted by: 37thand0street | May 4, 2010 11:41 PM | Report abuse

At what point will Obama realize his little "drone" attacks are not enough to deter attacks against the United States ???


How many people have to die???

How many Americans have to die before Obama and the democrats realize we really have to get tough with those in the Middle East - to convince them never to try to attack us again ????

Obama's weakness is inviting more attacks here in the US.

Obama's weakness is actually CAUSING more attacks here in the US - and could lead to more Americans being killed.

.

Posted by: 37thand0street | May 4, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

Oh please spare us the whining that this article reveals a secret democrat bias on the part of the writer. Good Lord! All this "the whole world is against us! Oh, biased liberal media!" fussing and moaning by Republicans makes US look like idiots, not the media.

The article is clearly written about what is a huge problem to national and Hawaiian Democrats. The descriptive device employed by the writer is to explain it from that point of view. I wouldn't know, and wouldn't be surprised if the writer DOES have a democratic bias, but this article doesn't demonstrate that.

Posted by: Observer44 | May 4, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

The speculations on the author's political leanings based on the headline & subject matter are amusing; particularly those that malign him for 'picking a side'. Its almost as though they've never heard of "The Sound of Music" and that classic ditty 'What do you do with a problem like Maria?' Even so, the structure is clearly intended to be used as an analysis of the situation, yes, from the Dem perspective. He's taking a known problem and analyzing what the options are for the group that is faced with the problem. If you're a Repub, and particularly if you're a Hawaiian Repub, this is good info to have - because it can help you form a strategy to counter each of the options available to the Dems. A repub strategist might be thinking "yep, if the DCCC drops out, we're golden; if they boost spending, we drop a little coin on the race to maintain our lead; but I hadn't figured on the possibility of getting Hanabusa to drop - we need to formulate a plan B in case that happens".

I suppose gaming out those alternatives is harder work than just whining "stop being such a liberal puss".

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 4, 2010 5:08 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who thinks Cillizza has Democratic leanings is either here for the very first time and/or has incredibly bad reading comprehension problems.

Read back a few weeks.

Posted by: Noacoler | May 4, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

You know something, Cillizza, your deep prejudice is blazingly clear. We Republicans do not see that there's a "problem" in the polls in Hawaii. There's going to be an election and the person getting the most votes wins. Maybe you should write clearly, like, "Democrats have a problem in Hawaii." Then everyone would know not to read your tripe unless they are interested in your precious, left-leaning prejudices.

Posted by: RonKH | May 4, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

It's interesting that the author sees the possibility of a Democrat losing in Hawaii as a "problem", as opposed to a "Democrat problem". What happened to objective journalism that doesn't take sides?

Posted by: rhshallenberg | May 4, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

Clearly, this is a lot more complicated than it looks at first glance, and is about politics very particular to Hawaii, so no matter what happens here, it has nothing to do with national elections.

Posted by: drindl | May 4, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

Having lived here for over 30 years, I can tell you for certain that 'ol Inouye doesn't want any haole in Washington or any elected position for that matter. This state has preached and taught school kids to despise white Americans. You see if you continue this non-inclusion, the non-whites (in particulau the Japanese) can control the economic spoils in this state. The spoils come in the form of government jobs, union trades, etc. which are all dominated by Japanese. As an example, in 1980 the County of Hawaii was represented by employees which 94% were of Japanese extraction. Over here nothing changes...this state is anything but American. Vote for Case! We need to end this domination and allow greater participation of all races!

Posted by: bigisle | May 4, 2010 3:10 PM | Report abuse

Why don't the Dems get CASE to withdraw? It sounds like Hanubasa will be the nominee for the general election anyway, so why isn't Case considered the "problem?"

Posted by: plurie | May 4, 2010 3:03 PM | Report abuse

If Djou and Case are polling at a combined 70% in this district, and Hanabusa is at 20%, then perhaps this district isn't as liberal as everyone claims.

Perhaps a Dem could get elected and then vote very liberal for their entire career, but that is often because the moderates and conservatives give up, in a sense. In the Massachusetts Senate race, the liberal lost to the perceived moderate. If Coakley had won, yes, she would have probably been reelected, but, of course, she lost (yes, I know there were other factors involved).

Posted by: gckarcher | May 4, 2010 2:27 PM | Report abuse

Overlooked in the analysis is that there are substantial reasons for Inouye and Akaka to oppose Ed Case's candidacy beyond the animosity Case generated by challenging Akaka. When Case was representative for the 2nd district he proved himself to be fairly conservative on most important issues. He split with other Democratic representatives and sided with Bush on countless issues. Colleen Hanabusa's politics are much more closely aligned with Inouye and Akaka, and with most Democratic voters in the 1st district.

Posted by: sage5 | May 4, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

How does the GOP solve a problem like Oregon? Many, many people in Oregon would like to vote for a conservative of the Pacific NW old school (I mean like OR's last GOP Governor, Vic Atiyeh, I don't mean the disgraced former Sen. Bob Packwood).

But the GOP is torn up, there is the right wing, the libertarian types, the religious values (social control) voters...so many factions,

http://www.oregonlive.com/politics/index.ssf/2010/05/oregon_gop_spat_goes_public.html


Posted by: shrink2 | May 4, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I have to say that this is one of the more fascinating special election races in the country. Due to the nature of this election, one must wonder if there should even be labels on these 3. Wonder who would win if there were no party labels and they just ran on a platform of ideas? Due to Ed Case's challenge of Akaka in 2006, the Hawii senators will not endorse him and would rather have someone in their mold beginning 2011 than endorse Case at this point. Daniel Inouye seems to be pretty invincible in Hawii, and is a man of his own conviction. Inouye is ok with bucking the Washington establishment from time to time. Example? He endorsed Alaska Republican Senator Ted Stevens in 2008, and national Democrats were furious with Inouye for doing so but Inouye didn't care. He considered Stevens a friend. I consider Inouye a man of conviction who loves Hawaii who will sometimes do the hard thing if he believes it to be right. Inouye will be Hawaii's senator until death, likely. That's why Lingle didn't risk her political capital she has as a popular Republican Governor in a losing senate race against Inouye. If the NRSC is smart, they are already plugging Lingle to challenge Akaka in 2012, as that would be a really tough race with Lingle an even shot to win and maybe the slight favorite. If Djou wins this race, that also adds momentum in 2010 for Lt. Gov. Aiona. There, Democrats have a tough primary fight as well between US Rep. Abercrombie and mayor Hannemann. Hawaii has became an interesting political state to watch.

Posted by: reason5 | May 4, 2010 1:57 PM | Report abuse

National Dems should get Inouye or Akaka to announce their retirement. Propose Hanabusa as the obvious Dem nominee in the race for determining their replacement. If the WH is really worried about the seat, promise a presidential commissionership or ambassadorial post to one of them to grease the skids. Both Inouye & Akaka are elderly - both are WWII vets. It is time to nudge them towards wrapping up their careers.

Posted by: bsimon1 | May 4, 2010 1:52 PM | Report abuse

Excellent analysis Chris.

Posted by: paul65 | May 4, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

Chris,

You wrote "ranked in their likelihood of happening."

Do you mean ascending or descending order?

Posted by: paul65 | May 4, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I wonder if it would be worth it for Djou to win just so Republicans can act even more idiotic than they did since they VA, NJ, MA trifecta. I really do think they read way too much into those. It's one thing to recite the talking points, but it's another thing to actually get the wrong idea.

Posted by: DDAWD | May 4, 2010 1:07 PM | Report abuse

Question:

If this were two Republicans vying against one another to hand a potential victory to a Democrat, would you have called it a "problem" in the headline/title?

Second question: Do you still wonder why the Washington Post is routinely viewed as editorially biased to the left?

Posted by: LNER4472 | May 4, 2010 1:05 PM | Report abuse

"I'd try to win this seat now. The Republican candidate could just do nothing for half a year, be polite and smile, and that may present a favorable image among the voters, leading him to taking the seat for two additional years.

Posted by: sharedgum | May 4, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse"

That won't help Joe Cao keep his seat in New Orleans, and he had two full years to make a good impression. By all accounts, he's done a good job, but he'll still lose in November.

This district is tilted too heavily to the Dems for the Repub to win election to a full term. This will at least give him something nice for his obituary.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | May 4, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"OK, boys and girls, which name is not like all the others: "Case," "Inouye," "Akaka" and "Hanabusa."

Clearly, ethnic solidarity is more important than political solidarity in Hawaii.

Diversity = Strength!

Posted by: pmendez | May 4, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse"

As usual, it's the rightwingnut teabagger drooler who injects race into the discussion.

Posted by: koolkat_1960 | May 4, 2010 12:52 PM | Report abuse

I'd try to win this seat now. The Republican candidate could just do nothing for half a year, be polite and smile, and that may present a favorable image among the voters, leading him to taking the seat for two additional years.

Posted by: sharedgum | May 4, 2010 12:50 PM | Report abuse

How about a pledge to support Hanabusa for the Senate when Inoue retires? I mean, he's held the seat since Hawaii became a state, so he's bound to retire soon.

Posted by: thecorinthian | May 4, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

"There is a fifth option, offer Hanabusa a job in the administration. She could easily be nominated for an ambassadorship to some other tropical island as a parting gift."

I wonder if that's any motivation for someone who is trying to leave Hawaii to get a job in DC...

Posted by: DDAWD | May 4, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

OK, boys and girls, which name is not like all the others: "Case," "Inouye," "Akaka" and "Hanabusa."

Clearly, ethnic solidarity is more important than political solidarity in Hawaii.

Diversity = Strength!

Posted by: pmendez | May 4, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

"and independents who would have voted for Case could turn for Djou in sufficient numbers "

Thanks for the insight, but -- 'would rather risk the seat going R for more than two years than swallow a victory by Case, who isn't particularly liberal'

it hardly seems likely to me that people who worry that the Dem isn't liberal enough are going to vote for a republican, is it?

Posted by: drindl | May 4, 2010 12:30 PM | Report abuse

Why can't this simply be solved by offering Hanabusa a plum job in the Obama administration?

Posted by: benniecsmith | May 4, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Corruption begets Corruption!

Posted by: imaginemore | May 4, 2010 12:28 PM | Report abuse

There is a fifth option, offer Hanabusa a job in the administration. She could easily be nominated for an ambassadorship to some other tropical island as a parting gift.

On the other hand the polls are starting to slide more and more towards a Case Djou face-off. Hanabusa has been slowly bleeding support and if Case and the DCCC keep up the pressure than maybe they can pull out enough support to beat Djou. Aloha!

Posted by: AndyR3 | May 4, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

For folks wondering what the big deal is, it's not hard to imagine a scenario in which Djou wins in November, too. If the establishment candidate Hanabusa wins the primary, which seems likely, some Case voters might be so turned off that they stay home, and independents who would have voted for Case could turn for Djou in sufficient numbers to give him the seat. Hawaii has a very respect-your-elders / know-your-place aspect to its politics, and I honestly believe that the Uncles Dan would rather risk the seat going R for more than two years than swallow a victory by Case, who isn't particularly liberal and operates outside the Democratic Party machine.

Posted by: kathleenv | May 4, 2010 12:24 PM | Report abuse

THE PROBLEM is the party leaders have too much control over the nomination process - they control the primaries - then they draw the lines for gerrymandered districts.


The party leaders are NOT HAPPY unless they RIG BOTH THE PRIMARIES AND THE GENERAL ELECTIONS.

To phrase a question: how do you solve the problem ??


What is the PROBLEM???


IS it that the party leaders dont have enough control - and that is the problem - or is it that VOTERS AND THE CHALLENGERS CANT GET CONTROL OF THE PROCESS ???

.

Posted by: 37thand0street | May 4, 2010 12:15 PM | Report abuse

THE PROBLEM is the party leaders have too much control over the nomination process - they control the primaries - then they draw the lines for gerrymandered districts.


The party leaders are NOT HAPPY unless they RIG BOTH THE PRIMARIES AND THE GENERAL ELECTIONS.

To phrase a question: how do you solve the problem ??


What is the PROBLEM???


IS it that the party leaders dont have enough control - and that is the problem - or is it that VOTERS AND THE CHALLENGERS CANT GET CONTROL OF THE PROCESS ???

.

Posted by: 37thand0street | May 4, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

It won't mean anything if the R wins, except lack of Democratic excitement over a contest that will, as everyone has said, be decided in D's favor in November. So really, why bother now?

Posted by: drindl | May 4, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

Is Obama's home district in Hawaii or is it Illinois?

I guess he would prefer Hawaii as the weather is much better and the politicians appear to much more honest and no one is subpeoning him, as they are in Illinois!

Posted by: mwhoke | May 4, 2010 11:40 AM | Report abuse

I'm a little perplexed by all the ink being spent on the Hawaii special, considering that there will be, in essence, a "do-over" in about six months.

I think this is a situation where the "inside the beltway" types (including you, Chris) have decided on a narrative and they're sticking to it.

If Djou wins, then he gets the honor of being a Congressman for six months (I think he gets a lifetime pension for that, too, doesn't he?), and then the winner of the Democratic primary (Case or Hanabusa) will knock him off in November.

Why is this such a big deal? (I know, Obama carried the district with 70% of the vote, but the two Dems are splitting the vote...so again, I ask, why is this such a big deal?)

It's almost like reading breathless coverage of Joseph Cao's reelection race in Louisiana. The guy got elected on a fluke, and he'll be gone in January too.

Posted by: Bondosan | May 4, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

"It's possible then that national Democrats walk away, believing that there is little point in throwing good money after bad in a seat the party is likely to win back in the fall."

Let it go.. what is the point of fighting over this now when will be Dem in November anyway?

Posted by: drindl | May 4, 2010 11:37 AM | Report abuse

#1 obviously since the seat will be a Dem seat when the 112th congress convenes.

Posted by: DDAWD | May 4, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

The problem is more structural than anything - the party leaders think they "own" the votes of the party faithful.


This is the SAME problem in all the gerrymandered districts around the country.

The party leaders think they should choose who carries the party nomination - not the voters.


.

Posted by: 37thand0street | May 4, 2010 11:27 AM | Report abuse

"That political fact of life, which has set in among the smart strategist set in Washington over the last 10 days or so,"


Which means that it is undeoubtedly wrong.

Posted by: drindl | May 4, 2010 11:26 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company