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GOP’s Djou finding favor with voters after change


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In Hawaii, the home state of President Barack Obama, Demo­crats are in danger of losing a seat in the U.S. House.

Republican Charles Djou has been working to convince voters it would be wise to send a Republican to Washington so the state has a voice in the majority party, and his message is striking a chord among some voters who are hungry for change.

The latest Hawaii News Now-Hono­lulu Star-Advertiser poll showed Djou tied with Demo­cratic state Rep. Mark Takai one week before Election Day, with each candidate getting 47 percent of likely voters.

"Hawaii is a very heavily Demo­cratic state, and it is very difficult to challenge the establishment and go up against the old-boy network," Djou said. "I think the conventional wisdom would be to expect at this point that I would be crushed, that I would be a million miles behind with no chance."

But polls tell a different story. And conventions changed with the death of veteran Demo­cratic Sen. Daniel Ino­uye in 2012, which set into motion a chain of events that left the seat in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District up for grabs.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie appointed Sen. Brian Schatz to finish Ino­uye’s term, upsetting Rep. Colleen Hana­busa, whom Ino­uye anointed from his deathbed to succeed him. Hana­busa challenged Schatz for the Senate seat in the primary but lost.

Takai emerged from the House primary out of a crowd of hopefuls. He said he knew it would be a tough fight against Djou, who held the seat for seven months in 2010 and 2011.

"Charles Djou had an effective message at the beginning, messaging that he’s a moderate and a centrist," Takai said. "I thought it was important that people understand his record and my record, because clearly he’s not a centrist."

The fight between the parties attracted the attention of mainland super PACs, which saw an opportunity for Republicans to pick up a seat in a volatile election year.

American Action Network, a group that tweeted that it’s gearing up to bring more conservatives to Congress this November, poured nearly $300,000 into ads portraying Takai as a Demo­crat who has voted to raise taxes, further raising Hawaii’s high cost of living.

The Democratic Party of Hawaii said in its ad that Djou sided with tea party Republicans when he served in Congress, adding that he voted to cut education funding in Hawaii.

Both candidates dispute the validity of the super PAC ads and say the influx of money from outside Hawaii is bad for voters. Attorneys from Takai’s campaign sent a letter to television executives disputing the Republican ads and asking for them to be taken down.

In recent years Hawaii voters sent more Demo­crats to the state Legislature and Congress than any other state, said Dante Carpenter, former chairman of the Demo­cratic Party of Hawaii.

"That’s sort of the pinnacle of success in a sense," Carpenter said. "So is there only one way to go from there, and is that downhill? Or can you maintain? I guess that’s the question."

Djou, an Army Reserve major who served on the Hono­lulu City Council, previously held the congressional seat after he won a three-way special election. But he lost the seat to Hana­busa in 2010, and she defeated him again in 2012.

Takai, a longtime state representative and lieutenant colonel in the Hawaii National Guard, is reminding voters what Demo­crats have done for the state. Takai’s advertisements in the final days of his campaign are playing up his party roots, with one TV spot featuring a photo of Obama.

He said Djou, on the other hand, is running from his party.

"If you look at any of his logos, or his campaign, it never says he’s a Republican," Takai said. "Look at my signs. I’m a very proud Demo­crat. … Everything we talk about in terms of major social change was led by Demo­crats."

Djou and other Republicans are hoping that voters in Hawaii will decide a one-party congressional delegation isn’t good for the state.

"I think they’re finally going to wake up to the fact that we should have competition. We should have two-party actions," said Pat Saiki, chairwoman of Hawaii’s Republican Party.

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