GOP Leaving No Footprint in Hawaii
National Republicans are taking a page from Senate Republicans’ successful playbook in Massachusetts by appearing to keep out of the upcoming House special election in Hawaii.
In traditionally Democratic states such as Hawaii and Massachusetts, visible intervention from the national GOP doesn’t help candidates like Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou (R), who is waging a competitive campaign in the free-for-all May 22 special election in a district that gave President Barack Obama 70 percent of the vote two years ago.
What’s more, outside intervention can be a particularly sensitive matter in Hawaii politics — meaning that often the best thing party leaders can do for candidates is appear as if they are staying far away from the campaigns.
GOP consultant John Peschong, a top aide on Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle’s (R) two victorious campaigns, said Hawaii voters often refer to the intrusion of mainland politics as “outside meddling,” and in Hawaiian Pidgin English, the profusion of negative advertisements is called “talk stink.”
“People want candidates that embody that sense of Aloha,’ that sense of love for one another … it’s a little tough for local people to vote for someone who gets really negative,” Peschong said.
Regardless of whether House Republicans are covertly playing in this special election, there’s no doubt that looking like they are not involved in the race benefits Djou, who public polls show is neck-and-neck with former Rep. Ed Case (D) and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa (D) in the mail-in ballot special election.
The National Republican Congressional Committee has reported no independent expenditures in the race so far, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has spent $231,000 on third-party expenditures in the special election — all of which were used on negative advertisements against Djou. Meanwhile, the NRCC has dumped almost $500,000 into an equally competitive May 18 special election in southwestern Pennsylvania.
But just like Massachusetts, it’s possible that there could be no record of national party spending in Hawaii until after the election — although Republican National Committee spokesman Doug Heye said the committee had maxed out its donations in the race and NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said he had no knowledge of any more spending on the race in the works.
During the Massachusetts special election, the National Republican Senatorial Committee transferred $500,000 to the state Republican Party in the first two weeks of January — a transfer that did not show up on federal election records until after the election was over and the committees turned in their monthly campaign finance reports in February.
“The RNC and the NRSC played a very significant role in Scott Brown’s win — not only what they contributed (money, personnel and support), but also what steps they didn’t take,” said GOP pollster Neil Newhouse, who worked on the Massachusetts Senate race. “They decided not to do paid advertising and they discouraged national GOP leaders from coming to the state. While most campaigns would kill for this kind of support, we simply felt it cross-pressured Scott’s branding and messaging as an independent Republican.”
If any of the party committees transferred funds to the Hawaii Republicans and their affiliates after April 1, the transfers would not show up on federal election records until mid-May — well after most voters have submitted their mail-in ballots and possibly even after the election has finished.
The RNC transferred about $90,000 to the Hawaii Republican Party in mid-March, and RNC Chairman Michael Steele made a personal donation to Djou’s campaign earlier this year. NRCC Chairman Pete Sessions (Texas) transferred $2,500 to Djou from his political action committee in 2009, and several other Republican Members have donated to the Hawaii Republican’s campaign.
The NRSC did send staff to Massachusetts for the last couple of weeks of Sen. Scott Brown’s (R-Mass.) campaign, including Political Director Randy Bumps. An NRCC spokesman confirmed that the committee has so far not sent any staff to the Aloha State.
The NRCC, however, is providing support to Djou in the same way it is helping other GOP House candidates, regularly communicating with the campaign and offering strategic advice. However, NRCC spokesman Joanna Burgos insisted most of the decisions are left to Djou’s team.
“It’s definitely a unique district and a unique culture, so they are the experts on their own culture and the demographics on that island,” she said.
Djou said in an interview that while he would welcome national support for his campaign, he’s not necessarily asking for it.
“It’s not something that I would turn away, but it’s certainly not something that I’m jumping up and down, begging for and complaining to the national GOP that they’re not in here,” he said.
Djou has also been sharply critical of some of the spots the DCCC has run against him.
The GOP county chairman for the Big Island, Daryl Smith, said he thought voters would disapprove if the national party came into the race and ran spots on Djou’s behalf.
“In a Democratic state, it doesn’t reflect well on a candidate’s own handling of his campaign,” Smith said. “It’s just the way the main base of the people here perceive outside help. Outside help is considered meddling.”