Democratic Leaders Tussle Over What to Do in Hawaii

President Obama recorded a message for Democrats in Hawaii's first congressional district: "I need a Democrat who will support my agenda in Congress. It's crucial that you vote and you vote Democratic." His approval rating in the place where he was born exceeds 70 percent, so it's likely that his call will be heeded.

Problem is: Obama's robocall is confusing, rather than clarifying. The White House, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee believe that former Rep. Ed Case is a better candidate than State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa.

The moment the Big Three tipped their hand, however, was the moment that protests started flooding in from Asian-American interest groups, from organized labor and from Hawaii's two senators. (One of them, Daniel Akaka, doesn't like Case because Case tried to primary him out of a job in 2006). There are two Democrats running in this special election to replace retiring Rep. Neil Abercrombie (D), and one Republican, Charles Djou. The candidate with the most votes gets to keep the seat for five months. No majority is needed. A GOPer can squeak by with 35 percent of the vote.

The DCCC's independent expenditure arm has spent about $300,000 against the Republican, expecting that Obama would endorse Case before the election. All signs suggest that Obama will not do so. The politics are too complex, and the White House, for now, hasn't gotten involved in non-incumbent primaries. The DCCC IE's cash might be wasted.

Still, it's no secret that party leaders want Case. The DNC released a poll yesterday showing Case as the more competitive candidate. That's as clear a message as possible to Hanabusa to step aside. And labor Democrats wonder why, given the strong likelihood that the seat will be won by a Democrat in November, the party is risking the anger of virtually every organized group of Democratic voters.

Is it possible that Djou benefits from his five months of incumbency and retains the seat in November? Democrats dismiss the possibility, but it's hard for analysts to dismiss any possibility in such an anti-Washington environment. Keep in mind that the district has elected Republicans before (albeit a while ago), and that inter-group rivalries are quite strong.

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Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.

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