Hanabusa defies polls, will stay in race
By Derrick DePledge
Advertiser Government Writer
State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, trailing in the polls and hearing of intense pressure from national Democrats who want her to step aside, vowed yesterday to stay in the special election for Congress until the end.
"I don't know how else to respond but to just say this: I'm in this race until the end, and I'm in this race to win," Hanabusa, surrounded by friends and supporters, said at a news conference at her campaign headquarters off Ward Avenue.
National Democrats fear Hanabu- sa and former Congressman Ed Case will split the Democratic vote in the winner-take-all special election and allow Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, a Republican, to claim victory in President Obama's birthplace.
Although national Democrats are officially neutral, they have sent signals for weeks that they might back Case and took the public step this week of releasing a poll and memo prepared for the Democratic National Committee that concluded Case was the only Democrat who could beat Djou.
The White House's political staff and other national Democrats also have pressured U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, the state's leading Democrat, to either get Hanabusa to step aside or relax his opposition to Case.
"It's certainly intense," one national Democratic strategist said of the pressure on Inouye. "There's definitely frustration here. It's pretty obvious that people know what needs to happen, and it has fallen on deaf ears."
WRITING ON WALL
While national Democrats say Hanabusa herself has not been told she cannot win and should step aside, the message has been sent through Inouye and his staff, who have been working closely with the Hanabusa campaign.
"That message is crystal clear," the national strategist said.
A local strategist close to Hanabusa said the campaign has heard the advice. "It has not fallen on deaf ears," the local strategist said. "But we understand our community better than anybody and, come November, there will be a Democrat there."
Several Democrats, speaking privately, questioned why Hanabusa would call a news conference on the subject and thus guarantee another batch of media reports that describe her as a possible spoiler.
But people close to her campaign said Hanabusa had to say something definitive and end speculation that she might drop out. She also wanted to reassure supporters who are about to cast ballots in the all-mail election.
The state Office of Elections estimated yesterday that about one in five voters already have turned in their ballots.
Hanabusa thinks the Hawai'i Poll and other polls that show her trailing do not reflect the campaign. She believes her significant grassroots support will lift her into contention.
"The indications that we're getting is that Charles Djou is not going to win this race," she said. "And, in fact, we are right in the midst of it and we intend to win it."
She said she finds it interesting that she has been described as the establishment candidate, yet it is Case, behind the scenes, and Djou, officially, who are getting help from national Demo-crats and national Republicans.
"I think it's intriguing that the both of them have in fact gotten the ultimate form of support, in terms of insider politics," she said. "You know, you can't get any more insider than the Republican National Committee or the Republican committee here or the DNC or the DCCC (Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee) or whoever it is that Ed is now saying is helping him behind the scenes."
Asked about Washington meddling, Hanabusa suggested that national Democrats are more concerned about a win than about Hawai'i. She said she has been criticized as the establishment candidate after being endorsed by Inouye and U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-Hawai'i, whom she described as having "Hawai'i in their hearts."
Inouye called Hanabusa yesterday before the news conference and said he stood with her.
"I'm not sure what motivates them other than maybe a seat," she said of national Democrats. "Just having another seat."
Djou said Hanabusa's predicament shows that "politics as usual in Washington, D.C., is fatally flawed."
"The Mainland party bosses have been trying to push Colleen out of the race because they are worried two voices exposing Ed Case's record is a recipe for disaster for the Democrats," he said in a statement. "I welcome all candidates in this special election the more choices for the people in our election the healthier it is for our democracy. I will continue talking with voters about fiscal responsibility, accountability, lower taxes and job creation as these are the issues voters care deeply about in this election."
Jason Burke, an adviser to Case's campaign, said: "It sounds like Charles is afraid and he should be. This has come down to a race between a proven leader and legislator with a proven record of putting Hawai'i first, and a walking Republican talking point with a legislative record of saying 'no' and running away from the tough fights and decisions."