Victory in Hawai’i
Independent Women’s Voice (IWV) commissioned a survey in April 2010 to determine whether or not it would be worthwhile to engage in some form of electioneering activity in the special election in Hawaii’s First Congressional District. The survey showed that Democrat Ed Case was leading a three-way election. Republican Charles Djou trailed him, and Democrat Colleen Hanabusa trailed the two of them. Moreover, the survey revealed — not surprisingly — that the second choice of Hanabusa voters was Case (he was perceived as more liberal than Djou), and the second choice of Djou voters was Case (he was perceived as more conservative than Hanabusa). And the second choice of Case voters? When asked for whom they would vote if they couldn’t vote for Case, Case’s supporters split almost down the middle — 40 percent went left, to Hanabusa, while 39 percent went right, to Djou.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) faced a conundrum: Its leadership and top strategists believed that Case was the more electable of the two Democrats in the race; but the Committee could not simply declare itself in favor of Case, given Hanabusa’s strong support from Senators Inouye and Akaka and many key Hawaii labor unions. So instead of choosing between Case and Hanabusa, the DCCC decided to spend heavily on the air with negative ads designed to drive voters away from Djou. The survey revealed that the DCCC strategy was working — and likely would have continued to work, had it been allowed to play out without any other outside input. Because the second choice for Djou voters was Case, DCCC advertising designed to raise Djou’s negatives worked to drive Djou voters to their second choice — Case.
So even as the DCCC was publicly remaining “neutral” in the race, not choosing between Case and Hanabusa, in practice, their advertising campaign was bene?ting Case by driving voters his way. IWV determined to engage with an Electioneering Communication designed to inform voters of three key data points: First, that Case had voted 72 times for higher taxes IWV Report on Hawaii 1 Special Election GEB International Inc. during his four-year tenure representing Hawaii’s Second Congressional District; second, that Case had received three “F” ratings from the nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union; and, third, that Case had recently hired indicted former Illinois Governor Rod Blagjojevich’s political consultant, better known to the FBI as “Advisor B” on their surveillance tapes of Blagojevich — and that this advisor had counseled the disgraced former governor to try to swap Barack Obama’s Senate seat. Unlike many third-party Independent Expenditure efforts, this ad was not a video press release with a fake or a minimal time buy behind it; it was a serious communication, produced by BrabenderCox, a well-regarded media consulting ?rm.
With 2,000 Gross Ratings Points behind it, the ad was designed to inform voters of Case’s voting record and political behavior. When the IWV ad went on the air, Case was leading and the DCCC was pushing more and more voters every day away from Djou and toward Case. But within 24 hours of the launch of the IWV advertising campaign, according to press reports, the DCCC was publicly backtracking on its commitment to the special election; a few days later, DCCC Chairman Chris Van Hollen announced the DCCC’s withdrawal from the race. Just as importantly, once Djou saw the IWV ad go on the air, he revised his own advertising campaign. His campaign pulled down the contrast ad it was running, and replaced it with a positive ad featuring Djou’s wife making a direct appeal to the camera. So beginning in early May, the only ad on the air informing voters of Ed Case’s ?aws as a candidate was the IWV ad. Data collected in rolling tracking surveys since the launch of the IWV advertising campaign makes clear that the IWV ad campaign did its job: Case’s image — which had been ?rmly set in the minds of Hawaii voters — began to change perceptibly. His negatives began to rise among key targeted groups, and his share of the vote began to fall back. By the end of IWV’s ad campaign, Case’s numbers had moved signi?cantly, and Djou had overtaken him on the ballot. What follows is a detailed case study of the IWV ad campaign in Hawaii’s First Congressional District.