Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican, surprised political observers by winning the open-seat special election to replace long-time 1st District Rep. Neil Abercrombie. Abercombie, embarking on a race for governor, had resigned in February and it was expected the Democrat would be followed by another Democrat.
Instead, the strongly divided race between Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case gave the seat to Djou. Hanabusa, the recent primary winner, hopes to unseat the incumbent this November but is facing a surprisingly challenging race, due to the national political swing toward Republican candidates this year.
Candidates for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District (two-year term)
(This district includes most of the southern portion of Oahu surrounding Honolulu and its suburbs. See a boundary map here.)
Candidate: Charles Djou
Political experience: Djou is serving his first term as a Representative for Hawaii's 1st District, and has been in office since May 25. He serves on the House Budget Committee and the House Armed Services Committee. He was previously a Hawaii state house representative and served on the Honolulu City Council.
Professional experience: Djou is a captain in the United States Army Reserve. He has also taught at the University of Hawaii Richardson School of Law, the University of Hawaii West Oahu and Hawaii Pacific University.
Key issues: Djou wants to make sure Social Security never goes bankrupt and wants to make sure there isn't a tax hike or cut to entitlements due to the rising cost of health care and increased unemployment.
He says he is concerned that congressional spending, aimed at borrowing the country's way out of the recession, will not work. He says federal spending and the growing national debt threaten the economy.
Though he depicts himself as a centrist in his views on his website, he notes he has always supported the safe, legal and responsible ownership of guns.
Endorsements: Djou has received endorsements from the National Federation of Independent Businesses, Trust in Small Business and Paychecks Hawaii.
Chances of maintaining his seat: Spending is well under way in this race, and both candidates have raised and spent roughly the same amount of money, according to OpenSecrets.org; they've both raised roughly $1.7 million and spent between $1.3 to $1.4 million in advertising thus far. That leaves Djou with $371,326 to Hanabusa's $404,912, hardly a commanding lead. Djou has the benefit of incumbency, but hasn't been in office long enough to build a strong record. He's also facing a strongly Democratic electorate, making this a difficult seat to hold.
Candidate: Colleen Hanabusa
Political experience: Hanabusa is president of the Hawaii state senate, having previously served as senate majority leader. She is the state senator for the 21st District.
Professional experience: Hanabusa is a labor lawyer.
Key issues: According to the issues section of her website, Hanabusa believes that Hawaii can be an energy leader in the green-job sector, noting the state has access to solar, wind, wave, geothermal and other alternative energy resources. She says she would like to make sure Congress helps establish Hawaii as a leader in this research and development effort.
She supports the Jones Act, a cabotage law intended to ensure a domestic merchant marine fleet that will help Hawaii to ship and receive goods from ocean transportation. She notes she supported the Obama administration decision to increase the number of troops to Afghanistan and says it is a more direct threat to national security than Iraq ever was.
Endorsements: Due to the long primary period leading up to elections, most of Hanabusa's endorsements came during the primaries. They include Hawaii Sierra Club and Democracy for America and senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka.
Chances of unseating Charles Djou: Hanabusa may make this one of the few Democratic pick-ups in the country, but that's far from certain. Partisan polling has shown close races for both candidates, indicating the race remains a toss-up. Hanabusa's sole saving grace may be the fact the district is rated +11 for Democrats by the Cook Partisan Index, but she can't bank on demographics this year.
Key Differences between Colleen Hanabusa and Charles Djou
Jobs: Djou vows he will never vote for a tax increase and that he will make fiscal responsibility in Washington and family tax relief a cornerstone of his effort to stimulate the economy, if re-elected. Hanabusa says her No. 1 priority would also be to put people back to work, and says that U.S. military requirements overseas have burdened the country's ability to pay to stimulate the economy back home. She is in favor of public works and stimulus spending, and she would strengthen the nation's infrastructure further as a means of growing jobs.
Health care: Hanabusa says that health care reform that doesn't infringe on Hawaii's existing principles is fine; she notes that the Hawaiian congressional delegation made sure that Hawaii kept the Prepaid Health Care Act functional, providing uniform standards for employee health and retirement benefits in the state. Djou prefers market-based health care reform, suggesting individual tax deductions on health insurance, tort reform and interstate health insurance is the solution.
Education: Djou says education reform needs to address accountability for teachers and principles, reducing bureaucracy and increasing teacher education and training. Hanabusa would reform education through incentives and tax benefits for college savings programs, more money toward college scholarships and loan programs, expanding the G.I. Bill and AmeriCorps and expanding Internet-based learning opportunities.
Hawaii's 1st U.S. Congressional District
Location: The Hawaii 1st District is one of two districts in the state. It includes much of the southern coast and part of the center of Oahu island, including Honolulu.
2008 results: In 2008, Democrat Neil Abercrombie defeated Steve Tataii 77 percent to 19 percent.
Demographics: According to the U.S. Census, the district is 50.8 percent Asian, 18.6 percent white, 6.2 percent Hispanic, 5.9 percent Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander, 3.2 percent black, and 0.1 percent American Indian or Alaska Native.
The Cook Partisan Index gives the Hawaii 1st District a rating of D+11, meaning this district is strongly Democratic in voting trends.