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Charles Djou: Incumbent, underdog

Rep. Charles Djou has a tough race ahead of him this fall.

By Aaron Blake

Newly elected Hawaii Republican Rep. Charles Djou knows what it's like to be a challenger and an open seat candidate, and underdog and a favorite, a nobody and the toast of the town.

And that's just in the last two months.

Now, Djou enters a new stage in his political career: embattled incumbent. After easily winning a three-way special election in the more conservative -- but still dang Democratic -- House district in a May 22 special election, Djou enters an abbreviated 2010 reelection campaign as one of a handful of deeply endangered GOP incumbents.

That's just fine with him, and nobody will accuse Djou of being ill-prepared. "The only way I know how to campaign is running a race where I'm down by two points and closing in," he said in a recent interview with the Fix.

This is after all the man who, when it looked like Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-Hawaii) would run for governor, decided to start his campaign three years in advance of the vote.

Preparation paid off. And, so did a little luck as a pair of Democrats split their party's votes, while Djou was the only Republican in the field -- consolidating the Republican vote and winning over a fair number of independents along the way too.

Djou's 39 percent showing was hardly the stuff of landlsides and, unlike in the special election, he will have only one Democratic opponent in November: state Sen. Colleen Hanabusa. (Former Rep. Ed Case announced last month he would not run again in the fall.)

Hanabusa' candidacy is good news for him, insisted Djou. "Yes; no qualification," Djou said. "With Ed, he's a Blue Dog. Drawing contrasts on the issues would have been more challenging for me."

Regardless of his opponent, Djou's margin for error is almost nonexistent in a two-way race. He is running in a historically left-leaning district in which Democrats took nearly 60 percent of the vote in the May special election.

At the same time, it's perhaps not as liberal as some in the press assumed in the runup to the special election.

The seat, which is dominated by the city of Honolulu, has a strong military presence and plenty of high-income voters; it went for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race by just 6 points. While the state's politics are heavily Democratic, voters there will vote for a Republican with the right profile - i.e. someone like Djou or Gov. Linda Lingle (R) who carried it in 2002 and 2006.

They will also routinely send politicians back to the offices to which they have been elected -- a voting pattern that works in Djou's favor.

"Hawaii has never kicked out an incumbent member of Congress in the history of the state," Djou pointed out. "And I have absolutely no plans of being the first."

But past isn't always prologue. And being an incumbent -- especially a Republican one in Hawaii -- in such an anti-incumbent and polarized election environment may not portend the same advantage this cycle as it has for the past 50 years.

Djou has quickly been forced into a series of tough votes and shown a willingness to flex his bipartisan muscles. After voting with Democrats to repeal the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy for gays in the military, Djou last week voted against their financial regulatory reform bill.

"That will become, I suspect, a major issue in the campaign," said a Democratic strategist familiar with the race, pointing out that Hanabusa ran an ad on the Wall Street reform bill during the special election.

Djou impressed Republican leaders for the kind of campaign he ran, and his special election showing backed that up. Now, though, he faces a completely different race from a completely different perspective.

If being prepared is half the battle, then Djou has a good start. But he, like Massachusetts Republican Sen. Scott Brown, can't control much of what will determine his fate. Djou will have to separate himself from his party frequently and hope that the GOP brand, which still isn't a particularly good thing in the Aloha State, doesn't sink his hopes for a full term.

By Aaron Blake  |  July 7, 2010; 11:00 AM ET
Categories:  House  
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Next: W.Va. Gov. Joe Manchin to push for 2010 special election to replace Byrd


Ceflynline wrote,
"The Republican Resurgence template is flatly wearing out.

And CC has to use it at least until the Democratic landslide of 2010 makes nonsense of it. THEN he has to resurrect it and try again until 2012."


Well, at last! Someone finally comes out and says what has been implied by many of the posters here for quite some time. Democrats are actually expected to GAIN seats in the November midterms. Happy days are here again!

Posted by: Brigade | July 7, 2010 6:15 PM | Report abuse

First CC finds four Democrats in Ohio, SD, FL, and somewhere who are actually in no danger at all and touts them as "Pick your Race", now he tries to find a prize fighter to against Joe Louis in his prime from a second grade wrestling team.

The Republican Resurgence template is flatly wearing out.

And CC has to use it at least until the Democratic landslide of 2010 makes nonsense of it. THEN he has to resurrect it and try again until 2012.

Its Mac and Cheesy and tater tots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner until Obama's second inauguration because intelligent bloggers cost too much for the Post to hire any more.

Posted by: ceflynline | July 7, 2010 4:51 PM | Report abuse

Deceptively low because of workers reduced to less-than-full-time status or part-time status still being counted as employed. One example, the state and local gov'ts here haven't had massive layoffs which would show up in the state unemployment rate; instead of layoffs, "furlough Fridays."

The impact of the President's economic stimulus plan will get at least one news cycle locally.

Posted by: tuber | July 7, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Thanks to both tuber and bsimon.

Posted by: mark_in_austin | July 7, 2010 3:53 PM | Report abuse

I also see an update to the MPR story I linked to earlier; Bachmann has about double Clark's cash-on-hand & similiarly doubled (give or take) her 2nd quarter fundraising.

tuber - thanks for the local view

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 7, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

There is a Tea Party presence but nothing like on the mainland. People don't like higher taxes in Hawaii too but most seem resigned or are willing to accept as part of the cost of living (which is very high even in the rural areas).

When people here think of federal spending, they think Pearl Harbor, Hickam, Kaneohe, Schofield Barracks - national defense related and arguably justified with Hawaii strategically located in the middle of the Pacific. Everyone knows it isn't just about the direct federal expenditures but also the economic impact on surrounding businesses and neighborhoods. Fiscal responsibility and federal budget cuts play well but get more specific and it could be like messing with the third rail, Hawaii style. Tourism is still in recovery mode and the Honolulu (city & county) unemployment rate is deceptively low. Much higher in the other counties.

Which reminds me, the big gun who filed for re-election yesterday did so in Pearl City according to the article I read. Pearl City is within the city & county of Honolulu. Just trying to be accurate lol.

Posted by: tuber | July 7, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

"What's Taryl Clark like, bsimon?"

She's a reasonable fit for the district; a semi-blue dog. She's not the liberal activist that Bachmann will paint her as. But Bachmann is the incumbent & will do well with fundraising. Lastly, Bob Anderson (running as an IP candidate) took 10% of the vote last time. If he does it again, Bachmann holds the seat with 46% of the vote.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 7, 2010 2:29 PM | Report abuse

tuber, Hawaii depends on the Federal purse just like NY 23 CD or PA 12 CD? It seems too glamorous for that. Any TEA Party activity there?

Posted by: margaretmeyers | July 7, 2010 1:45 PM | Report abuse

thanks for the local angle, tuber.

What's Taryl Clark like, bsimon?

Posted by: drindl | July 7, 2010 1:38 PM | Report abuse

The Congressman is the incumbent so naturally he gets the writeup. Locally, the most press he's received is on the use of franking privileges, robo-calls to constituents, and apparently being the first to use an iPad on the House floor.

The blog post doesn't have a local 'look and feel' perspective on the upcoming election. The Congressman's go-to issue is fiscal responsibility, balancing the federal budget by cutting federal expenditures. Yet Hawaii relies heavily on federal largesse, defense and civilian expenditures, as a key driver of the state economy. And the biggest gun of them all filed for re-election in Honolulu yesterday.

So which direction do you believe the election tradewinds will be blowing in November?

Posted by: tuber | July 7, 2010 1:23 PM | Report abuse

b -- I don't think the fix is even distantly interested in balance -- but you certainly know that!

How hard would it have been to call or email Hanabusa and at least get a token quote from her?

The Fix has gotten to be Fox Lite.

Posted by: drindl | July 7, 2010 12:56 PM | Report abuse

drindl, Being able to get an incumbent to sit for an interview is certainly easier than doing the same with a challenger in Hawaii. If Mr Blake were clever, he would parley the need for such balanced story writing into a trip to Hawaii on a wapost expense account. Or perhaps that is where cillizza is going, leaving Aaron & Felicia to mind the store.

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 7, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

Oh how lovely for Dijou -- a big wet kiss from the Washington Post... and barely a word about his Democratic opponent. How typical.

Posted by: drindl | July 7, 2010 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Speaking of longshots, Tarryl Clark has raised $2 million for her challenge to Rep Bachmann (MN-6).

Posted by: bsimon1 | July 7, 2010 11:43 AM | Report abuse

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