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Hawaii holds special election for House seat; Democrats expect loss in Obama's birthplace

"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," Van Hollen said.

Democrats have won the last six House special elections, including Tuesday's race in Pennsylvania to replace the late Democratic Rep. John P. Murtha. National Republicans hope a victory in Hawaii, even without a majority of votes, can provide the party needed momentum heading into the fall.

"The fact that we have an opportunity to win in President Obama's childhood district, where he received 70 percent of the vote in 2008, speaks to the quality of Charles Djou's candidacy and the level of Republican voter intensity across the country," said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Campaign Committee. "Democrats can try to spin this all they want, but a loss in President Obama's hometown district would be a tough pill to swallow."

The race has been awkward for Democrats. Obama recorded robocalls earlier this month to drive up Democratic turnout, but the president did not mention a candidate, merely asking Hawaiians to vote for "a Democrat." Three former Hawaii governors staged a news conference last weekend to urge voters to support one of the Democrats, but did not single out a candidate because their allegiances are divided between the two.

The campaign has strained relations between Hawaii's most powerful politicians and Democratic leaders in Washington. In the five decades since statehood, Hawaii's politics have been controlled by a Democratic political machine, run by Sen. Daniel Inouye and powered in part by labor unions.

Hanabusa is the hand-picked candidate of Inouye and Sen. Daniel Akaka. Hanabusa has won the endorsements of Hawaii's labor unions, yet she has been trailing in third place in all recent polls.

Hanabusa has touted her relationships with Inouye and Akaka, saying that she is uniquely suited to work with them to bring federal investments to Hawaii.

"They are both portraying this inability to work with the congressional delegation as a sign of independence," Hanabusa said in an interview last month. "That's not a sign of independence. . . . You're not running for this office to serve yourself. You're running to get a job done."

Meanwhile, Case, who represented the 2nd Congressional District from 2002 to 2007, remains within striking distance of Djou, according to polls. Case has run as an insurgent, railing against the Honolulu establishment and touting his independent streak.

"Folks want change, but not just any change," Case said in an interview Friday. "It's not change just swinging across the ideological spectrum. That's not the change that folks want. They want a change that brings independent, consensus-based problem-solving to D.C."

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