Save for a special election in Florida’s 19th congressional district, the May special election in Hawaii’s 1st congressional will be the next snapshot of American popular opinion on the road to the November elections this year. FrumForum sat down with Charles Djou, the Republican candidate in this upcoming race.
Unlike Florida-19, which was won by President Obama by over thirty points in 2008, Hawaii-1 looks to be a district where voter dissatisfaction with the Democratic Party could lead to a Republican pick-up. While still quite blue (D+15 in the Cook Partisan Voting Index), Hawaii’s 1st congressional district has gone to the GOP in the last four governor’s races.
Further, the special election is set up in winner-take-all format, meaning that there are no primaries. With two, maybe three Democrats in the race, Djou thinks that Hawaii-1 could be the inverse of one closely-followed special election in upstate New York: “I think that my special election could essentially be the inverse of the New York-23 election, with the Democrats splitting the vote.”
Djou, a Honolulu City Councilman and a former Minority Floor Leader in the State House, understands that being labeled a Republican can be a liability in his district, so he has run a campaign based on the theme of independence: “I don’t covet the national Republican party’s label or being anointed by them,” he tells FrumForum. “I welcome their support, [but] I’ve built my career… on being an independent voice for my constituents.”
Like many at the Republican National Committee winter meeting last week, Djou couldn’t get enough of mentioning Republican Senator Scott Brown’s name. “Scott Brown’s win put a lot of wind into the sails of my campaign… His more moderate social views, his focus on the average family – that’s my campaign… His messaging has worked very well in Massachusetts, and will play very well in Hawaii.”
To be sure, they share plenty of superficial similarities – they’re both lawyers, both army reserve officers, both in typically Democratic jurisdictions and they’ve both seized upon the electorate’s desire for an independent representative.
With regards to his independent streak, Djou is already showing his stripes. He notes that the Republican Party has struggled to propose clear alternatives. “It is good that Republicans nationally have articulated what they are for, but it would be great if they could be… more forceful as to what they are for,” he said. “If the Republicans clearly articulated what they were in favor of, and the Democrats more willing to listen, there are compromises there.”
Thoughtful and articulate, Djou has obviously been doing his homework. Indeed, he proudly lays out his case for defying Republican orthodoxy on a whole host of issues.
He excoriates ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ as a “failure”, and says that, “having served in the army, I’m disappointed that the President didn’t just sign an executive order ending it right now.”
He criticizes Republicans for their lack of progress in environmental stewardship, saying: “I’m a constant advocate for responsible environmental stewardship in our communities, which I think distinguishes me from [many in] the GOP.”
Unlike some Republican members, who have been happy to drain the trough, he’s said that Congress has “no choice” but to reign in earmarks. He defends TARP. He’s pro-choice. He even has the gall to call himself a “moderate”!
Djou has no end to the accolades attached to his name: Adjunct Professor at the University of Hawaii; JAG reserve officer; named legislator of the year in ’02, ’04, ’06; top forty under 40 to watch in Hawaii in 2005; ‘best politician in the state’ honors from Honolulu Weekly.
Charles Djou is a sharp candidate - some hard work and a smidgen of luck is perhaps all that separates him from coming to D.C. as a representative of Hawaii-1.