In the end, a race for the 1st Congressional District that appeared in doubt for Democrats just a few months ago followed a familiar pattern in Hawaii, with party faithful turning out across the island in virtually all districts to support their candidate, Colleen Hanabusa.
An analysis of vote totals from Tuesday’s election shows Hanabusa won all but five of the 25 state House districts in the urban Honolulu district as she unseated Charles Djou from a six-month incumbency in the U.S. House of Representatives.
"The numbers revealed what I have said all along: We have the best volunteers and best supporters in Hawaii," Hanabusa said in a final campaign e-mail to supporters. "We won because of you."
Strong get-out-the-vote efforts by Democrats and a boost from President Barack Obama via telephone conference call this week all appeared to help Hanabusa, as she swept House districts from Waipahu to Diamond Head.
"We had a tremendous grass-roots effort all across the district, including canvassing and phone banking every day," Hanabusa campaign manager Eric Hamakawa said. "I think the number shows that the effort paid off.
"We’re still looking at the returns in depth, but leading across the island from Wilhelmina Rise to Mililani shows how strong and widespread Colleen’s support was," Hamakawa said.
Djou won three districts in his home area of East Oahu; the Ewa Beach-Iroquois Point district represented by Republican Rep. Kymberly Pine; and the Mililani-Mililani Mauka District, where Democratic Rep. Marilyn Lee survived a close race against GOP challenger Shaun Kawakami. He also won the lone precinct in the Wahiawa district that falls within the congressional boundary.
In conceding the race, Djou put the blame for the loss entirely on his own shoulders while praising the job his supporters did.
"Through this campaign, we gave the people of Hawaii a choice," Djou said.
Although Hanabusa won most districts, her 6 percent margin of victory (11,461 votes) was smaller than past Democratic victory margins, said political analyst John Hart, a communications professor at Hawaii Pacific University. U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono won her race for the 2nd Congressional District with nearly 70 percent of the vote.
Hart cited Djou’s incumbency as part of the reason for Hanabusa’s lower margin.
Additionally, "being the tough-minded legislation person she is, Hanabusa has racked up some high negatives for some people," he said. "I would say high negatives and incumbency are the reasons for that lower margin of victory."
Djou proved to be a formidable incumbent after winning a special election in May to fill the remainder of the term vacated by Governor-elect Neil Abercrombie, who resigned in February to concentrate on his gubernatorial run.
He out-raised Hanabusa by about $200,000, pulling in $2.3 million for the campaign. He spent $2.1 million, or about $25 per vote. Hanabusa raised $2.1 million and spent $1.7 million, about $18 per vote, according to the most recent spending reports filed with the Federal Election Commission.
Early polls showed Djou ahead and he also had history on his side: Hawaii voters had never voted out a congressional incumbent.
Hart attributed some of Hanabusa’s late gains to her endorsement from one-time rival Ed Case.
Case was a factor in the seat going to the Republicans in the May special election. Djou won with 40 percent of the vote, after Democrats split their votes between Hanabusa and Case. But Case dropped out of the race a week later, giving Hanabusa a clear shot at Djou in the general election and leaving Democrats optimistic of regaining the seat.
He ultimately endorsed Hanabusa and waved signs with her just before the final debate of the campaign.
"I don’t think there was any question whose votes were being fought over — it was Case’s," Hart said. "Once he endorses Hanabusa and actively sign-waves with her, apparently a lot of his constituents go to her."