By John Fund of the Wall Street Journal – Democrats are downplaying the significance of Republican Charles Djou’s victory in a special House election in Hawaii on Saturday. With two Democrats splitting the liberal vote, Mr. Djou won with just 39% under special rules that awarded him the seat with a mere plurality. No wonder Democrats quickly pooh-poohed any suggestion that the win represented a political earthquake in a district where President Obama was born and won 70% of the vote in 2008.

Colleen Hanabusa, president of Hawaii’s state senate and the candidate who placed second to Mr. Djou, is confident Democrats will retake the seat when Mr. Djou has to run for a full two-year term in November. “Let’s not forget, 60% of the vote is still Democrat and it’s going to be a Democrat facing off against a Republican in November,” she told supporters.

Such conventional wisdom may be misplaced. Hawaii’s 1st District, which includes Honolulu, is competitive in many elections, giving President Bush 47% of the vote in 2004 and voting twice for GOP Governor Linda Lingle in recent years. And Mr. Djou is a talented candidate who will no doubt use the power of incumbency to full advantage.

Complicating matters is the split between Ms. Hanabusa and the other Democrat on the special election ballot, former Congressman Ed Case. The two now will spend the next four months until the September primary beating each other up. Ms. Hanabusa is the candidate of the Democratic machine, and received the endorsement of every major union in the state. For his part, Mr. Case is a party reformer whose past campaigns particularly angered Senator Daniel Inouye, who has ruled Hawaii’s Democratic Party with an iron grip since his election to the Senate in 1962.

Should Mr. Case win the Democratic primary, don’t expect Hanabusa supporters quickly to rally behind him. A survey by Independent Women’s Voice, a conservative group that aired effective independent ads during the race, found that 40% of Mr. Case’s supporters said they would have voted for Mr. Djou over Ms. Hanabusa if their man hadn’t been running.


— John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal

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