House Republican party boosts Djou in Hawaii

April 30, 2010

House Republicans are mounting an aggressive, behind-the-scenes effort to push Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou over the finish line in next month’s Hawaii special election.

With voting in the all-mail ballot set to begin next week, House GOP leaders have called for an all-hands-on-deck fundraising campaign that has already netted the Hawaii Republican more than $100,000 in campaign cash.

About 40 Republican members have opened their wallets for Djou — more than half of them in this month alone — who unexpectedly finds himself in a competitive three-way race in a heavily Democratic district.

Former Democratic Rep. Ed Case and Democratic state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa lead the Democratic field.

The under-the-radar effort has been orchestrated by House Minority Leader John Boehner, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions, NRCC Recruiting Chair Kevin McCarthy, and California Rep. Ed Royce — each of whom has spent months exhorting rank-and-file members to donate to Djou.

Thus far, the NRCC has not spent any money at all on independent expenditures in the race. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, on the other hand, has spent $231,000 to fund several ads and a website blasting Djou’s record.

Republicans are leery of spending in such a tough seat and cognizant of the need to tamp down expectations in a district where Barack Obama won 70 percent of the vote. More important, though, the national party is hesitant to weigh in for fear of creating a backlash in such a deep blue seat.

The situation parallels the position the National Republican Senatorial Committee found itself in earlier this year during the special election in heavily Democratic Massachusetts. In that race, the NRSC chose not to broadcast its efforts — which included spending about $500,000 and sending more than 20 staffers to the state.

“The Republicans shouldn’t air ads in the district. It would be a disaster,” said one senior GOP operative involved in the party’s efforts to win the Hawaii seat. “The Republican name isn’t good in Hawaii.”

GOP officials — nearly all of whom insisted on describing their efforts for Djou off the record — maintained that the late push was standard procedure for special elections. Party leaders are also asking rank-and-file members to pony up campaign cash for Tim Burns, a Republican running in next month’s special election in Pennsylvania’s 12th District.

In a brief interview with POLITICO on Wednesday, Sessions attributed the party’s push for Djou to the increasing sentiment within the party that victory is within reach. A recent poll showed Djou with a narrow lead over his Democratic opponents.

“The bottom line is we have not been the least bit reticent about helping him, but he made a race of and then we got involved. He had to put this thing together in the last couple of weeks and did. We’re on board,” said Sessions.

“I think the most important thing is Charles went out and took care of his own fundraising. He’s the one that made the phone calls and built the momentum. He’s now made it a winnable race, and we participate when there’s a winnable race. We will do the things that are necessary to help him,” added Sessions. “And until we learn that there is no way to win, we’re there. We will keep asking members for money. We will keep those things that support his candidacy, and we believe he’s got the right message.”

Sessions, in particular, has taken an aggressive role in promoting Djou’s candidacy within the House GOP Conference. He transferred $2,500 from his political action committee last year. And during a closed-door, conference-wide meeting at the Capitol Hill Club on Tuesday, Sessions stood before members and asked them to contribute to Djou. A clip of a recent Djou campaign ad was also played for members, according to one person present.

“Pete Sessions has made it clear to the members and to the downtown community for months: Get on the Charles Djou train now. He just might pull off the unthinkable,” remarked one Capitol Hill Republican.

Cantor and McCarthy have also been active in the hunt for cash for Hawaii, appealing to lawmakers who participate in their “Young Guns” program that aims to groom the party’s top recruits. McCarthy has composed a fundraising letter on Djou’s behalf and lent his name to a California fundraiser held this week benefiting Djou.

In March, Cantor joined Boehner and Sessions in headlining a Washington fundraiser benefiting Djou.

Djou has found a base of fundraising support from his allies in the California delegation. Royce, the nine-term congressman who serves as the NRCC’s west coast regional chair, has taken the lead on gathering up cash from members, and Djou has received donations from a group of California lawmakers that includes GOP Reps. Devin Nunes and Buck McKeon, as well as McCarthy and Royce.

The financial support Djou has received from the House GOP — enough to pay for a week’s worth of campaign ads in Hawaii — adds to an already sizeable campaign war chest. In March, Djou reported having nearly $492,000 in cash on hand — a figure that far exceeds his Democratic opponents. And this month, Djou staged a “money wave” that netted his campaign coffers nearly $122,000.

Djou was scheduled to spend more than $138,000 in campaign ads this week — almost as much as Case, Hanabusa, and the DCCC are spending combined in the same period, according to ad buy information obtained by POLITICO.

“Charles is well funded,” McCarthy told POLITICO. “He started early. He has a better message, and he’s united people beyond the Republican base — and I think that shows, from our perspective, how effective his message has been in the campaign.”

“This guy has made a race out of this and it is Charles Djou who, because of his own personal ethos and the way he’s operated this — he’s made it a race,” said Sessions.

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