HONOLULU – Democrats expect Rep. Patsy Mink to win re-election in Hawaii next month -- even though she died Sept. 28. Then comes another election for the seat with her widower running. And then maybe another.
The Republican candidate, ex-Marine Bob McDermott, has been feuding with party leaders and has received virtually no support from a state GOP that had discounted his chances of beating Mink. But controversy over the scheduling of as many as three rapid-fire elections for her district is giving Republicans new hope for the longtime Democratic seat.
On Nov. 5, voters in the 2nd District -- rural Oahu outside Honolulu plus the other Hawaiian islands -- will go to the polls like people in all other states, picking a representative for the congressional term that begins in January. But that's only the start.
Next comes a Nov. 30 election for the five weeks that would remain in Mink's current term.
Then, if Mink won the Nov. 5 election, would come another election on Jan. 4 to replace her for the two-year term beginning in January.
Republicans have accused Democrats of trying to manipulate the election system and of covering up the seriousness of Mink's condition until after she won her primary election and it was too late to take her off the general election ballot. She died after a month in the hospital with viral pneumonia.
The scheduling of two special elections costing as much as $4 million -- and the strength of Republican Linda Lingle's candidacy in the race for governor -- have suggested cracks in four decades of Democratic control in the Aloha State.
It is not yet clear who would have the advantage in the special congressional elections because both require only a plurality of the vote for victory, with no runoff. More than 35 candidates have signed up for the first one and as many are expected for the second. They include members of both parties and independents.
The most prominent is state Rep. Ed Case, who narrowly lost to Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono in the Democratic gubernatorial primary. Former Democratic Gov. John Waihee also has said he may enter the second special election, which could split the Democratic vote.
In a twist on the filing deadline Tuesday, Mink's widower, John Mink, joined the field of Democrats in the race to complete his wife's term. He had been encouraged to get into the race by Waihee and others. Mink said he would not run for the full term, but a victory for him would deny any other candidate, including Case, the advantage of incumbency.
Mink said his election would enable him to help his wife's staff fulfill her commitments to the outgoing Congress.
"As I have decided to place my name on the ballot principally to honor my late wife and her staff, I will not be campaigning for office," he said.
The fact that Lingle is running well ahead in gubernatorial polls bolsters the hopes of any Republican who might seek the 2nd District seat. And, if Lingle, the former mayor of Maui, loses to Hirono, she could run for the House seat herself.
With the seat now seen as competitive, Republican state Senate Minority Leader Sam Slom says McDermott deserves the party's support as the only one who was willing to take on Mink. He calls McDermott "the candidate that has been the risk-taker and has been out there from the beginning."
But if McDermott loses the second election to a Democrat, the Republicans could look for a fresh candidate for the third.
Discord between McDermott and party leaders surfaced when he demanded copies of the local GOP's donation list earlier this year and party leaders refused, saying the names were confidential.
He then called for the resignation of his own party chairman, Micah Kane, whom he accused of improperly trying to sell $1,000 tables to the party's annual Lincoln Day dinner during a private meeting with House minority Republicans at the Capitol -- a charge Kane denied.
Still, Kane said in an interview after Mink's death, "I think our relationship with him is good."
"We haven't really assessed his campaign," Kane said.
McDermott, 39 is a conservative, opposed to domestic partnership benefits and in favor of making the Pledge of Allegiance mandatory in public schools.
Born in Lansdale, Pa., he joined the Marines out of high school and was stationed in Hawaii, where he completed his enlistment and went to college. Later he rejoined the Marines, leaving the service in 1992 and returning to Hawaii, where he worked in management at two coffee companies. He won a seat in the state House in 1996 in a campaign that focused on his opposition to same-sex marriages.