Djou Faces Hawaiian Electorate That’s More Pro-Democrat Than Pro-Incumbent

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By Jimm Phillips

Even before Rep. Charles Djou (R-Hawaii) was sworn in Tuesday, less than a week after his special election victory against a pair of feuding Democrats, pundits were already debating whether he would be able to win a full term in November. One thing some believe will work in his favor is his incumbency — and conventional wisdom states that Hawaii is one of the most pro-incumbent states in the nation. But at least one political expert says what appears to be state voters’ pro-incumbency attitude is actually just a case of being pro-Democrat.

“Generally I don’t think it’s any different than the rest of the country, which votes incumbents in most of time,” said Neal Milner, a political science professor at the University of Hawaii. “I think what’s important about Hawaii is not incumbency, it’s how strong it is for the Democrats.”

Djou won May 22 with only 39.4 percent of the vote, while his two Democratic opponents split a combined 58.4 percent. The district he now represents, which mainly covers the Honolulu metropolitan area, is overwhelmingly Democratic — Obama bested McCain here 70-28 percent. Before Saturday, the district had also not previously elected a Republican since 1988, when Pat Saiki won what would be her only re-election campaign. Djou has history on his side: In the more than 50 years since Hawaii became the 50th state, its voters have never voted out an incumbent member of its congressional delegation. But before his election, just two of those incumbents were Republicans: Saiki and Sen. Hiram Fong.


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