For Dems, 50th State Becomes Hawaii Uh-Oh

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It was either a freak political event or a message to Washington -- or both -- that catapulted Republican Charles Djou to Congress in May, representing the liberal 1st Congressional District of Hawaii. Since then, he's had plenty of time to ponder his political mortality.

When the House is in session, Djou spends a full day each week making the 9,000 mile round-trip flight between Washington, D.C. and Hawaii.

"I try to spend 72 hours a week in D.C., 72 hours a week in Honolulu and I literally live 24 hours a week, once a week, each and every week, in an airplane," Djou said.

Democrats in Hawaii have been pondering their political mortality too and wondering how a district that voted 70 percent for Barack Obama in 2008 has become a toss-up where a Republican might win.

After long-time Rep. Neil Abercrombie, a Democrat, resigned to focus on his bid for governor, two Democrats insisted on running in a special election in May, to replace him. It became a high-stakes game of chicken between former U.S. Rep. Ed Case and Hawaii Senate President Colleen Hanabusa. Neither blinked, and they split the Democratic vote. That made it possible for Djou (pronounced duh-JOO) a former Honolulu city councilman, to win.

Democrats immediately vowed to take back the seat come November. "The majority of voters in the district supported Democratic candidates in this special election," Abercrombie said in a statement released after Djou's win. "I am confident that a Democrat will win the Congressional race in the general election."

But that confidence has slowly eroded. Hanabusa is now the only Democrat vying for the seat. Polls show she and Djou locked in a statistical dead heat.

"This is one [seat] that Democrats thought they were going to win back easily," said Isaac Wood, House race editor at Sabato's Crystal Ball, part of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "But now that victory in Hawaii doesn't seem so secure."

Surprise: Hawaii House Race Too Close To Call

No incumbent candidate for federal office in Hawaii, Democrat or Republican, has ever lost in the history of the state -- so Djou has history on his side. But Democrats are quick to point to the fact that President Obama won the district -- which includes the President's hometown of Honolulu -- with more than two-thirds of the vote in 2008. "It is a Democratic district, in a Democratic state," said Richard Rapoza, Hanabusa's director of communications.

Political prognosticators say despite the Democratic makeup of the district, the race is truly a toss-up.

"I think that with a week to go [Djou] definitely has a fighting chance of winning a full term," said Nathan Gonzales, political editor at the non-partisan Rothenberg Political Report. "Neither of them have it in the bag."

So what's the case a Republican is making to a district that's anything but? Independence.

"For me, it's not so much about party, it's about what I believe is in the best interest of the people of Hawaii and I will always vote with Hawaii," Djou said in an interview, rattling off a list of issues on which he has broken with his party in the short time he's been in Congress. One that stood out: he voted in favor of ending the "don't ask, don't tell" policy that prohibits gays from serving openly in the military.

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