HONOLULU - Hoping to catch the same lightning that struck in Massachusetts, Hawaii's Republican leaders on Wednesday claimed the GOP's surprise victory in New England is a harbinger for what could happen in the islands this year.
State Republican Party Chairman Jonah Kaauwai and Honolulu City Councilman Charles Djou said that both Hawaii and Massachusetts have been politically dominated by Democrats, but insisted the same ''anti-establishment'' fervor that juiced Republican Scott Brown's victory Tuesday in the race for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts is apparent here, too.
''The results in Massachusetts certainly puts wind in our sails,'' said Djou, who is vying against two Democrats in an as-yet-unscheduled special election to fill the remaining term of Democratic Congressman Neil Abercrombie, D-Hawaii.
''If we can make a definitive statement that we've had enough of multitrillion dollar budget deficits and multibillion dollar stimulus packages that don't work in Hawaii, just as we did in Massachusetts, I think it's going to send a profound statement to the nation,'' Djou added.
Abercrombie plans to leave his 1st District seat on Feb. 28. The earliest a special election could be held is May 1, possibly making it the next congressional special election in the nation.
The Hawaii Republicans' claims were part of an effort by GOP leaders across the country to tie every candidate they could to Brown, who started out as a distant underdog only to defeat Democrat Martha Coakley.
But neither Djou nor Kaauwai could cite concrete evidence that Hawaii voters are angry enough about federal deficits, economic stimulus or other issues to elect Djou.
An independent poll taken earlier this month and commissioned by the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and KITV showed Djou trailing both Democrat Ed Case, a former congressman, and state Senate President Colleen Hanabusa in a hypothetical three-way race.
Case, who is casting himself as independent from influential Hawaii Democrats, such as U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, called Djou's claims ''purely partisan.''
The special election is going to be about what's best for Hawaii and who can quickly step into Abercrombie's shoes, Case said. ''We're going to see a lot of folks, both here and across the country, try to make this election about anything but that.''
A Hanabusa spokesman said Wednesday that she would not comment.
Neal Milner, a University of Hawaii political scientist, said Djou could win a special election if Case and Hanabusa beat up on each other and discourage Democratic turnout. Otherwise, Djou remains a long shot to win in a strongly Democratic district, Milner said.
''It isn't . . . that people are suddenly becoming Republicans, which they are not,'' Milner added.
Dan Boylan, a history professor at the University of Hawaii at West Oahu, said Republicans may tap into public dissatisfaction with a sour economy, Congress' protracted consideration of health care reform and Wall Street bailouts.
But that sentiment is taking a toll on all politicians across the country regardless of party, he said, citing another recent Star-Bulletin-KITV survey that showed Republican Gov. Linda Lingle's popularity dropping.
''Whoever is in office right now is feeling the wrath,'' Boylan added.
The head of the state Democratic Party, Debi Hartmann, said she doubted that the Massachusetts election will affect Hawaii.
''Hawaii is unique enough that we look at our own needs and aren't as affected by what develops on the Mainland,'' she said.