BY CARL J. KELM – Hawaii has long been Democratic territory, but President Obama’s birth state may be rejecting him and his party as Republicans look increasingly competitive in three key races.
Few pundits would have given high survival chances to Charles Djou, who last May captured a Honolulu-based congressional district in a three-way special election. His victory was written off to bitter divisions in the Democratic Party between supporters of liberal Colleen Hanabusa and moderate Ed Case, both of whom appeared on the ballot
Surprise. New polling shows Mr. Djou up by four points in his reelection bid against Ms. Hanabusa. Though Mr. Case dropped out of the race early on (“for the good of the party,” he said), his supporters are keeping alive his resistance to the Democratic machine of Senator Daniel Inouye, a Hanabusa backer. Polls show sizeable numbers of Case supporters now abandoning the Democrat for Mr. Djou.
A similar dynamic may be behind the shrinking lead of former Democratic Rep. Neil Abercrombie in the governor’s race. Some polls have his edge over Republican Lt. Gov. Duke Aiona down to only two points. The Democratic Governors Association is fighting back with a new ad framing a vote for Mr. Aiona as a vote against President Obama. The ad quotes Mr. Aiona himself saying electing a GOP governor would be a “knock-out punch” against Hawaii’s favorite son in the White House.
However, this may not be a risk-free strategy for Democrats. The Republican Governors Association has its own ad up that gently chides Mr. Abercrombie for being out-of-touch with the state. The ad doesn’t clobber Mr. Obama, but says: “Maybe people in Washington don’t care how you handle the federal budget — by printing money, raising taxes, and increasing the deficit — but in Hawaii, we do care.”
Both races appear winnable for the GOP. The real earthquake, however, may come in a 2012 senate race. Linda Lingle, who is wrapping up her second term as the state’s popular Republican governor, recently told the local ABC affiliate that she “will likely take a look” at running for the U.S. Senate in two years, when Sen. Daniel Akaka will be 88. No Republican has represented the state in the Senate since 1977.
— Carl J. Kelm is an editorial writer for the Wall Street Journal