HONOLULU (AP) — Republicans cited Rep.-elect Charles Djou’s victory for a seat long out of their reach as evidence of steadily increasing election-year strength, but Democrats said Sunday the winner’s 40-percent vote share portends a short stay in Congress for him and predicts nothing about the fall.
“It is a significant win. It is the birthplace of the president of the United States,” Republican Chairman Michael Steele said a few hours after Djou sealed his victory over Democrats Colleen Hanabusa and Ed Case. The two drew 59 percent of the vote between them in the winner-take-all contest.
But Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic campaign committee, said the result was “a clear case of local Democrats not being able to work out a solution where you could get one (Democratic) candidate against one (Republican candidate).” He said that would change by November.
Djou became the first Republican in nearly 20 years to win a congressional seat from his state, and he seemed to recognize that his political future was anything but secure.
At a Honolulu press conference Sunday, he said holding the seat in November will require “an enormous amount of hard work” and “a good message of fiscal responsibility that connects with the voters. That’s the only way I’ve ever run.”
Hanabusa said she will run again, while Case was noncommittal.
Djou will replace Neil Abercrombie, a 10-term Democrat who resigned to run for governor.
Djou said Sunday he may be sworn in as early as Tuesday. He said he wants to get right to work, mainly on budget issues, and said he hopes to work on the House armed services and natural resources committees, as Abercrombie did.
The victory was a consolation prize of sorts for national Republicans, who lost a special election in Pennsylvania last week that both parties had said was something of a bellwether for the fall. A week ago GOP officials had confidently predicted they would win both races in a demonstration of their political strength five months before the fall elections.
Instead the loss of the seat for the final few months of the late Rep. John Murtha’s term set off a round of grumbling as party officials vowed to figure out what went wrong.
Democrats virtually conceded the Hawaii race earlier in the month, after quiet diplomacy failed to persuade either Hanabusa, a state senator, or Case, a former congressman, to withdraw to avoid splitting the vote.
The White House, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and other Democrats all appealed to Hawaii Sen. Dan Inouye to ease Hanabusa from the race, but he refused, according to several officials. Public polling at the time showed Case outpolling her, an order-of-finish that was reversed when voters cast ballots.
Djou’s victory came on a weekend when party activists in two states demonstrated the same type of independence that has already spelled defeat this year for two senators and one veteran House member.
In Colorado, Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet, who was appointed to office, was outpolled by challenger Andrew Romanoff at a state Democratic assembly, a result that party officials said they anticipated. The two will meet in a primary on Aug. 10.
Among Republicans, former Lt. Gov. Jane Norton didn’t participate in the competition for delegate support, and will meet county prosecutor Ken Buck in a primary.
In Connecticut, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal easily captured the Democratic nomination for the Senate on Friday despite controversy over misstating his military record during the Vietnam era.
Linda McMahon outpolled former Rep. Rob Simmons, but the two will face off again on Aug. 10 in a statewide primary.
In Hawaii, Djou received 67,610 votes, or 39.4 percent. He was trailed by state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, a Democrat who received 52,802 votes, or 30.8 percent. The other leading Democrat, former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, received 47,391 votes, or 27.6 percent.
“This district is still, as stated, a Democratic district,” Hanabusa said, pointing to the combined Democratic vote. “We’re energized to start all over again.”
Case suggested to supporters he would seek the Democratic nomination in September. But when asked directly, he said all he planned to do Monday was “wake up, go body surfing and cut the lawn. We’ll figure out the rest of it later.”
The party was on at the Republican Party headquarters in Honolulu. A band played Hawaiian music and hundreds of supporters hugged Djou, piling on a stack of floral lei around his neck. A whiteboard inside the office read, “Just Djou it!”
While Democrats bickered, Djou, 39, enjoyed solid support from state and national Republicans and ran a disciplined campaign focused on taxes and government spending at a time when Hawaii’s tourism-driven economy remains troubled. The state faces a $1 billion deficit, large cuts to state programs and workers and an unemployment rate that has nearly doubled in the last three years.
Republican Gov. Linda Lingle said Djou’s victory indicated that voters “are looking for people who aren’t tied to special interests.”
He burnished his conservative bona fides during the campaign, courting tea party supporters and offering a conservative economic program: Taxes are too high, the federal government has grown too large, and wasteful government spending hinders economic prosperity.
Djou, the son of immigrants from China and Thailand, joined the Army Reserve after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks and attained the rank of captain. He has an Ivy League education and a law degree, served in the state Legislature and worked as a law school professor.
Associated Press writers David Espo in Washington and Audrey McAvoy contributed to this report.