On Saturday there will be a special election in Hawaii to fill the congressional seat being left open by Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), who resigned to run for Governor. All indications are that the election will be won by Republican businessman Charles Djou.
This is not a seat that should be won by Republicans. It is solidly Democratic, and, in fact, is the home district of Barack Obama. However, a Republican win here is due entirely to circumstances unique to this election. Any attempt to portray this election as an indicator of the national mood or Republican prospects in November should be studiously ignored.
There are two key factors leading to the likely Republican victory: a bitter rivalry between Hawaii Democrats and a Hawaii election law that allows a candidate to win with a plurality rather than a majority of the vote.
There are two Democrats competing in this race: progressive state Rep. Colleen Hanabusa and more moderate former state Rep. Ed Case. Polls show Case and Hanabusa splitting the Democratic vote, each receiving between 20-30% of the vote and Djou emerging victorious with somewhere around 40% of the vote. National Democrats have attempted to convince Hanabusa to drop out of the race with little success. A major factor in Hanabusa’s tenacity seems to be that Case offended many local Democrats by challenging the popular Sen. Daniel Akaka in the 2006 Democratic primary and making an issue of Akaka’s advanced age.
Republican pundits are likely to attempt to point to a Djou victory as indicative of a growing Republican wave, particularly in light of their embarrassing defeat in Pennsylvania on Tuesday. Don’t be fooled. Combined, Hanabusa and Case will outpoll Djou, but they are locked in a political deathgrip. In any case, Democrats will almost surely win the seat back in November when they only have one candidate on the ballot.