Case’s best chance lies with GOP crossovers
What will it take for Congressman Ed Case to unseat U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka?
About 40,000 Republican votes, if recent elections hold any lessons.
Case's bid against his fellow Democrat hinges on three factors:
» Whether excitement over the Case-Akaka matchup increases voter turnout in the typically torpid primary.
» How Case and Akaka split the Democratic vote.
» How many Republicans, independents and third-party voters take Democratic ballots to back Case's candidacy.
Arguably, Case can be expected to attract some Republican votes because he is considered more moderate than Akaka, who in 2004 scored a 5 from the American Conservative Union and a 95 from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action. Case scored a 20 and a 90, respectively. Hawaii Republicans intent on backing their own candidate in the general election also might vote for Case in the primary with the idea that he presents an easier opponent than incumbent Akaka.
Since Akaka can be expected to dominate the traditional Democratic base, including labor union members, Case's fate rides largely on crossovers.
With only token opposition, Akaka won 150,507 votes in the Democratic primary of 2000, the last year he ran. His partner in the Senate, Daniel Inouye, also against minor opposition, won a comparable total, 157,367, in the Democratic primary of 2004. The total number of Democratic ballots cast in both those races was about 177,000. Voter turnout in the 2000 and 2004 primaries was dismal, just under 40 percent.
Neither senator faced re-election in 2002, but the hot primary race for governor between Case and then-Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono drew a bigger Democratic crowd, 189,000 ballots cast. Interest in the Case-Akaka matchup can be expected to produce comparable or better turnout in 2006, perhaps 190,000 to 200,000 voters.
If Case and Akaka split that vote equally, then Case should win by virtue of GOP and independent crossover voting.
More likely, Akaka, as a respected elder statesman with union backing, would garner 55 to 60 percent of the Democratic vote.
By the higher estimate, if 190,000 Democrats vote, Akaka would win 114,000 votes and Case 76,000. That seems a reasonable number for Case, who won 74,709 votes in the 2002 statewide primary for governor and 73,705 in the Democratic primary for his 2nd district seat in 2004.
That would leave Case 38,000 votes short of a majority. To win, he needs at least that number in crossovers. With a turnout of 200,000 at 60-40, he would need 40,000.
Of course, if Akaka wins Democrats by a greater margin, say 62 to 38 percent, then Case would need 44,600 to 48,000 crossovers, depending on turnout.
Primary history would suggest an upper limit to this calculus. Fewer than 62,000 Republican ballots were cast in the 2000 and 2004 primaries for the U.S. Senate. Of those, more than 14,000 were blank.
Regardless of turnout, a Case victory needs either a close Democratic contest with Akaka or a high-percentage defection by the GOP. If Case gets neither, then Akaka at 81 is looking at a third full term.
Jim Borg, a veteran reporter and magazine editor, is a Star-Bulletin copy editor. "My Turn" is an occasional column written by Star-Bulletin staff members.
My Turn is a periodic column written by Star-Bulletin staff members expressing their personal views.