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Family feud may give GOP rare Hawaii victory

By Paul Steinhauser, CNN deputy political director
Trouble in paradise? Infighting among Dems could cost them Hawaii's 1st Congressional District.
Trouble in paradise? Infighting among Dems could cost them Hawaii's 1st Congressional District.
  • Results expected late Saturday in special election to fill former Rep. Neil Abercrombie's set
  • Abercrombie, a Democrat, resigned to pursue gubernatorial run
  • The two Democratic candidates on the ballot are splitting the vote; Republican could win
  • After it was clear neither Dem would drop out, DCCC stopped spending money on the race

(CNN) -- An intra-party fight among Democrats most likely will allow Republicans to win a House seat in a place they rarely win congressional elections: Hawaii.

Results are expected late Saturday in a special election for the state's 1st congressional district, a battle for seat of former Rep. Neil Abercrombie. The 10-term Democratic lawmaker stepped down earlier this year to concentrate full-time on his bid for Hawaii governor.

The seat should be safe for the Democrats, who dominate the district, which includes Honolulu and some surrounding suburbs. Abercrombie won more than three-quarters of the vote in his most recent re-election and President Obama, who spent parts of his childhood in the district, won 70 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential election.

But there are two Democratic candidates on the ballot in this election and recent polls indicate they are splitting the vote, with the Republican candidate, Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou, in first place in the surveys. The special election is a winner-take-all contest, with only a plurality needed for victory.

The two Democrats are former Rep. Ed Case, considered the more moderate candidate, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa, considered the more liberal candidate. Hanabusa was in third place, according to recent polls, but she refused to step aside. She disputes the surveys' findings and says they are wrong, according to local reports.

While national Democratic Party organizations may favor Case, they have not formally endorsed either of their party's candidates. Meanwhile, the state's two Democratic senators, Daniel Akaka and Daniel Inouye, are pushing for Hanabusa.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ran ads that criticized Djou. But earlier this month, after it was clear neither candidate would drop out, the DCCC stopped spending any more money or time on the race.

The winner of this weekend's special election will have to defend the seat come November, and national Democrats are saving their firepower for that contest, when only one Democrat will be on the ballot.

"We're looking at November in Hawaii," Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the DCCC chairman, told reporters Thursday. "I think you all know the situation, and it's important that people do understand the unique circumstances of a special election in Hawaii -- you don't have a primary. You have, in this case, 3 candidates -- 2 Democrats and one Republican. I can confidently predict that the Democrats together will get a majority of the vote. Just like the Democratic candidate in November will get a majority of the vote."

But a win for Djou in the special election will be seen as a symbolic victory for the GOP.

"The fact that we have an opportunity to win in President Obama's childhood district where he received 70 percent of the vote in '08, speaks to the quality of Charles Djou's candidacy and the level of Republican voter intensity across the country," Ken Spain, NRCC communications director, said.

Voting in the race has been underway for weeks, and ballots in the all-mail contest need to be returned to the state office of elections by Saturday.

CNN's Mark Preston and Shannon Travis contributed to this story.