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Djou, Hanabusa in dead heat

The flood of money from mainland groups show the high stakes

By B.J. Reyes

LAST UPDATED: 1:34 a.m. HST, Oct 24, 2010

The amount of money coming from sources outside Hawaii indicates how tight the race for Hawaii's 1st Congressional District is.

Both candidates -- Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Charles Djou and Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa -- each have raised more than $2 million for the campaign.

Money from mainland sources, including political action committees, labor unions and such organizations as the National Rifle Association and NARAL Pro-Choice America, has poured in, funding numerous television commercials, radio ads and campaign mailers peppering voters with "the truth" -- occasionally stretched -- on each candidate.

In a close race, that sort of spending can sometimes have an influence, says political analyst John Hart, a communications professor at Hawaii Pacific University.

"Money makes a difference in a close race," Hart says.

It doesn't get much closer than Djou-Hanabusa.

Most recent polls have indicated a statistical dead heat, with the advantage shifting back and forth by only a couple of points, and well within varying margins of error.

Voters should be familiar with both candidates.

They have been campaigning since February, when longtime Democratic Congressman Neil Abercrombie resigned to concentrate on his gubernatorial bid.

Djou won the seat in a special election in May after Democrats were unable to rally behind a single candidate, splitting party backers between Hanabusa and Ed Case.

Case withdrew from the race a week later, leaving Democrats confident of flipping the seat back in November. National parties have kept a close eye on the race as each seeks control of the U.S. House.

Hawaii has never voted an incumbent out of Congress, and Djou has proved to be a formidable opponent for Democrats.

In a series of recent debates -- five in nine days, the last four televised statewide -- Djou has consistently stuck to his theme of hammering the Democratic majority in Congress for a dysfunctional culture and a "spend to no end" mentality.

Hanabusa has portrayed herself as the collaborator -- touting her accomplishment as the first woman selected as Senate president -- and pledging to work with the Obama administration to pass key initiatives such as health care reform and repeal of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Both have sought to portray themselves as independents not beholden to their parties.

Political scientist Neal Milner sees that as an appeal to the more moderate and independent voters who may have supported Case.

"What we know about independents and moderates on the mainland ... is that they're clearly moving to the right for this election," Milner says. "They're clearly more likely to vote Republican.

"Assuming there are some of those in the Case constituency, they're the ones that you would suspect would go to Djou."

Considering the state's traditionally low voter turnout in midterm elections, Hanabusa has to work harder to make sure she gets the Democratic base out to vote, Milner says.

"Democrats are less excited about this election," he says. "It appears (nationally) that people who are leaning Republican are more likely to vote than people who are leaning Democrat."

Meanwhile, most analysts expect Democrats to keep its other seat in the U.S. House.

The race between incumbent Mazie Hirono and GOP challenger John Willoughby has barely registered on most political radars.

"There's no indication that that's even close," Milner says.

Even a telephone call endorsement from 2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin did little to raise the profile of that race.

"Sarah Palin endorsing over the telephone is a hell of a lot different than Sarah Palin showing up in person and rallying the troops," Milner says. "That district is hugely Democratic and Sarah Palin -- the likelihood that she would have enough effect is just highly, highly unlikely."

Hirono, 62, was elected to the seat in 2006. Before that she served eight years as lieutenant governor and 14 years in the state House.

Willoughby, 52, is a former Navy aviator who now flies for United Airlines. He is a native of Kansas City, Mo., who lives in Salt Lake.

Other candidates for the 2nd Congressional seat are:

» Pat Brock, 59, a Libertarian Party candidate from Kihei, Maui. He is a self-employed pool and spa technician.

» Andrew Von Sonn, a nonpartisan candidate from Paia, Maui. The Star-Advertiser did not receive information from him.

In the state's other federal race, U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye is seen as a lock for a ninth consecutive term over Republican challenger Cam Cavasso, a former state representative. A recent public poll indicated that Cavasso was within 13 points of Inouye, but neither analyst saw that margin closing.

"Inouye's certainly going to win," Milner says. "All that (the poll) suggests to me is there may be more of a movement toward voting Republican at the end stages of the campaign than we expected."

Cavasso, 60, served three terms in the state House in the 1980s, representing Waimanalo and Kailua. He is a financial adviser with Mass Mutual Financial Group and operates a small farm in Waimanalo.

Other Senate candidates are:

» Jim Brewer, 70, a Green Party candidate from Makiki. He is a community advocate and organizer.

» Jeff Jarrett, 49, a nonpartisan candidate from Keaau on the Big Island. He is a self-employed businessman and contractor.

» Lloyd Mallan, 66, a Libertarian Party candidate from Kapaa, Kauai. He is president of Artful Expressions Inc., a gallery.

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