POSTED: 05:16 a.m. HST, Oct 11, 2010
Hawaii's congressional candidates want to be different, just like everyone else.
In an election year filled with voter anger at the establishment, both Republican U.S. Rep. Charles Djou and Democratic challenger Colleen Hanabusa claim they're more independent than their opponent.
The candidates are trying to convince voters that they're the candidate for change ahead of the Nov. 2 general election, in which Democrats hope to make a rare gain in the House from Republicans after Djou captured the seat in a May special election.
Their messages may be a tough sell because both candidates have strong ties to their political parties.
Djou is an incumbent who has spoken for Republicans on TV, radio and the Internet against the majority's big spending.
Hanabusa is the president of the Democrat-dominated state Senate who has the backing of entrenched and powerful U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, the nation's most senior senator.
But their history also shows they've been rebels at times.
For example, Hanabusa bucked the will of labor unions to push for civil service reform, and Djou broke ranks to vote for a moratorium on offshore oil drilling and a repeal of "don't ask, don't tell."
Djou said Hanabusa is a product of the Democratic Party who wouldn't change the country's direction.
"She's going to be a team player and do the bidding of the establishment," Djou said. "I take Colleen Hanabusa at her word that she's going to be a machine candidate."
Hanabusa counters that Djou has become a mouthpiece for the Republican Party to do their bidding since he was elected in May.
"When you look at what Charles has done up there, he has basically tried to almost cloak himself as somebody who is a spokesperson for the Republican agenda," she said. "He's become a political insider."
Djou won the congressional seat representing urban Honolulu in a multiway election held four months ago to fill the remaining few months of Democrat Neil Abercrombie's term, who resigned to run for governor.
The Democratic vote was split between Hanabusa and former U.S. Rep. Ed Case, leaving Djou with 40 percent support and Hanabusa at 31 percent.
National Democrats are criticizing Djou's record with a TV ad titled "not independent" claiming he's voted with fellow Republicans 90 percent of the time since he was elected.
An Associated Press analysis of Djou's voting shows he has voted with the majority of his Republican colleagues 89 percent of the time, but that he's also voted with the Democrats 62 percent of the time. In comparison, Hawaii's other House member, Democratic U.S. Rep. Mazie Hirono, voted with her party 98 percent of the time and with Republicans 52 percent of the time in her current term.
"Voters notice that Charles works for Hawaii first, and not for his party," said Joanna Burgos, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which aired the anti-Djou ad, said he's out of touch with Hawaii because he opposed financial reform and an extension of unemployment benefits.
"He's aligned himself with national Republican leaders on a number of issues that show he's out of touch with the people of Hawaii," said Andy Stone, a spokesman for the DCCC.
The fight over who's more of a political maverick started months ago, when each candidate accused the other of having "gone Washington" — even though that's where both want to land following the election.
It makes sense for both candidates to try to sell themselves as outsiders, especially for Djou because he needs to convince voters in President Barack Obama's home state to support a Republican, said University of Hawaii political science professor Neal Milner.
"He needs ... to get people who are normally not Republicans to think about voting for him," Milner said. "So he introduces this idea that he's a victim of the establishment and that he's the truly independent candidate in the race."
AP writer Herbert A. Sample contributed to this report.