Hanabusa-Case fight could be gift for GOP


POSTED: Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Say Hawaii finds the money needed to hold a special election for the 1st Congressional District and the three candidates are Democrats Senate President Colleen Hanabusa and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and Republican City Councilman Charles Djou.

What then?

“;This is all or nothing, this is one bang,”; was how Sen. Dan Inouye described the special election to be held in May, because it has no primary, just a winner-take-all vote to see who fills out the remainder of Rep. Neil Abercrombie's 2010 congressional term.

If that race is important, the waves sent out from the contest are going to be felt for a long time.

Obviously, if Hanabusa wins, that is most likely game pau. Hanabusa was widely endorsed by Hawaii's Democratic political establishment last week and if she wins, so does it.

Now she is enjoying Inouye's active and vocal support. Inouye is usually more subtle in his attempts at guiding the Democratic election slate. If Hanabusa wins the special, all the gears and levers will have clicked into place and it is likely Hanabusa will be in Congress, end of story.

If Case wins, the return of the private attorney and former state legislator to Congress opens a whole new set of questions. It would debunk the local political wisdom that Inouye is king, that there is a Democratic-machine vote and that elbows-out, unvarnished attempts at upward mobility are not to be rewarded in local politics.

Inouye used his speech opening Hanabusa's headquarters mostly as an attack on Case, whom he regards as untrustworthy and disloyal, after Case opposed Sen. Dan Akaka in 2006. If the voters reject Inouye's warning, then Hawaii's Democratic patriarch—the chairman of the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee, a man both respected and feared here and in Washington—just slipped a rung.

But what if Republican Djou wins the special election? He has an arguable chance. He's the only Republican, for starters, and if Case and Hanabusa are playing “;liar, liar”; for 60 days Djou could appear the reasonable one.

Then the national Democratic and Republican parties will be in the picture big time. A Djou special election win would put Hawaii in play as a swing state. If the GOP snatches a win out of President Obama's home state, the minority Republicans will have some new-found bragging rights.

As they say on television: “;Watch what happens.”;