For the first time since May, 2008, House Republicans have won a special election.
Republican Charles Djou topped Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and former Rep. Ed Case (D-HI) to succeed retired Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D-HI) in Congress. Before Djou’s victory, Democrats had won 11 consecutive special elections. The stretch included a win last Tuesday by Rep. Mark Critz (D-PA) to succeed the late-Rep. Jack Murtha (D-PA). Many political handicappers expected Republican Tim Burns to win that contest and viewed the race as a barometer for how the political winds may blow this fall.
Djou secured 39.5 percent of the vote. Meantime, the two Democratic candidates, Hanabusa and Case combined to score nearly 60 percent of the vote. But that splintered the Democratic impact and allowed Djou to squeak through.
Republicans are still reeling from Tuesday night’s defeat in Pennsylvania and sought to portray this as a repudiation of President Obama on his home turf. Mr. Obama is a native of Hawaii and lived in that Congressional district as a child.
“Eighteen months ago, President Obama carried this district with seventy percent of the vote,” said Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX), the head of the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee (NRCC). “Charles Djou’s victory not only changes the makeup of the House of Representatives, but it helps Republicans move one step closer toward winning back the majority in November.”
Intra-party squabbles split the Democratic vote in the race as loyalists failed to unite behind one candidate. Many Hawaii Democrats hold much contempt for Case. Former Hawaii Gov. Ben Cayetano (D) tried to dissuade Case from running for Congress after the late-Rep. Patsy Mink (D-HI) died. Cayetano wanted Mink’s husband to fulfill the remainder of his wife’s term. Case ran anyway and won. Case further infuriated the party when he challenged longtime Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-HI) in a primary four years ago.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) dropped out of the race two weeks ago, conceding the race to Republicans. In an interview with FOX, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) expressed confidence that Democrats would take the seat in November. But he said it wasn’t worth spending cash now when the state party was locked in internecine warfare.
“It’s a Democratic seat,” said Van Hollen.
Djou becomes only the third Hawaiian to represent the state on Capitol Hill. Former Rep. Pat Saiki (R-HI) served in Congress in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Sen. Hiram Fong (R-HI) was one of the state’s original senators.
Djou is expected to be sworn-in later this week. The House will then have 432 members: 255 Democrats and 177 Republicans. There are vacancies for the seats once held by former Reps. Nathan Deal (R-GA), Eric Massa (D-NY) and Mark Souder (R-IN). Souder just resigned Friday due to a sex scandal with a part-time aide.
Abercrombie left Congress at the end of February to run full-time for governor.