The Tohoku regional block is comprised of Aomori, Miyagi, Akita, Yamagata, Fukushima — and Iwate, Ichiro Ozawa's "fiefdom." These six prefectures combine to elect thirty-nine Diet members, twenty-five from single-member districts and fourteen from proportional representation. In 2005, the LDP won seventeen of twenty-five SMDs, with the DPJ taking seven and an independent winning the remaining one seat. In PR voting, the LDP won six seats, the DPJ five, and one each for Komeito, the JCP, and the SDPJ.
In short, Tohoku is one region where the DPJ has ground to make up, and due to the influence of Ozawa, may be particularly well-placed to do so.
The LDP won all four seats in Aomori in 2005, and holds twenty-four of forty-eight seats in the prefectural assembly, compared with only six for the DPJ.
The first district has been thrown wide open due to the decision by Yuji Tsushima, eleven-term Diet member and LDP faction head, to retire from politics. In the past his decision would not have been a source of difficulty, but given the unpopularity of hereditary politicians, the LDP was reluctant to endorse his son's candidacy. The LDP's Aomori chapter has, however, endorsed Jun Tsushima's independent candidacy. The result is that the first district race will be a bit chaotic. Tsushima the younger will face Hokuto Yokoyama, who ran against the elder Tsushima in 2003 and 2005, doing well enough in 2005 to win a PR seat. (Not unlike a number of DPJ candidates and representatives, Yokoyama worked as a secretary to Ozawa, in his case between the 2003 and 2005 elections.) As in 2005, both the SDPJ and the JCP will be fielding candidates in this district — their combined 20,000 votes would have been sufficient for Yokoyama to unseat Tsushima. The non-LDP vote in 2005 was further divided by the presence of two independents in the race, who combined for nearly 30,000 votes. Sekio Masuta, the most successful of the independents will be running again. Given the national trend, Yokoyama may be well placed to win.
The LDP may actually be well positioned to hold the other seats in the prefecture. Akinori Eto, the LDP incumbent in the second district, has been defeated before (in 2000), but has generally won his district by sizable margins, by more than 40,000 votes in 2005 and 75,000 votes in 2003 (in 2003 his nearest rival was an SDPJ candidate). This year he will be facing a political novice, Noriko Nakanowatari, a young candidate running for the first time, whose only political experience to date is attending Ozawa's training academy for would-be politicians. In the third district the incumbent is Tadamori Oshima, the LDP's Diet strategy chairman and head of the party in Aomori. Oshima might be one of the vulnerable LDP heavyweights — he faces Masayo Tanabu, a second-generation Diet member who ran against Oshima in the previous three elections and did well enough in 2003 and 2005 to win PR seats. Tanabu may finally unseat Oshima this year. Taro Kimura , the LDP incumbent in the fourth district, looks likely to hold his seat in a race against Kyoichi Tsushima, a former Diet member who has migrated from the LDP (he first ran against Kimura in 1996, when Kimura was in the New Frontier Party) to the People's New Party to the DPJ.
The DPJ will likely win two of Aomori's four seats.
Iwate is truly Ozawa's kingdom: the DPJ controls three of four seats in the district, the prefectural governorship, and holds a plurality in the prefectural assembly. The DPJ should be able to complete a perfect sweep in Iwate in 2009. The LDP incumbent in the second district, Shunichi Suzuki, is six-term incumbent and was an environment minister under Koizumi, but his once-sizable margin of victory fell to a mere 22,000 in 2005. For the second time he will face Koji Hata, an eighteen-year veteran of the construction ministry who retired in 2005 to run as the DPJ candidate. Hata will likely win this time around.
The LDP controls five of the prefecture's six SMDs, the governorship (the independent candidate it backed in 2005 won by more than 50,000 votes), and 28 seats in the prefectural assembly to the DPJ's nine.
But the DPJ's candidates in Miyagi may be the strongest in the Tohoku regional block. Jun Azumi, the party's incumbent in the fifth district, has represented it since the electoral reform and won by nearly 10,000 votes in 2005. The DPJ may be in a position to pick up seats in the first, third, and fourth districts. The first is represented by Doi Toru, who defeated Kazuko Koori, the then-incumbent and his DPJ challenger this year, by a mere two thousand votes. Doi, a Koizumi child, faces a tough reelection fight. The third district will also see a rematch between LDP and DPJ candidates, this election's being the third consecutive fight between LDP incumbent Akihito Nishimura and DPJ challenger Kiyohito Hashimoto. Nishimura defeated Hashimoto in 2003 by roughly 200 votes, with Hashimoto's settling for a PR seat. Nishimura won by 20,000 votes in 2005, but the difference suggests that this district may follow the national trend, meaning that Hashimoto should win this time around. The race in the fourth district should be tight as well, with Shintaro Ito, the LDP incumbent, facing off against DPJ candidate Keiki Ishiyama and JCP candidate Mikio Kato. Ito, a two-term second generation Diet member, won by roughly 25,000 votes over Ishiyama in 2005, with Ishiyama's receiving the most votes ever received by a DPJ candidate in the district. Ishiyama, whose campaign pitch is based on his background in farming, could be affected by the broader national debate over agriculture policy and an FTA with the US.
The DPJ should win four of Miyagi's six SMDs.
Akita has been fairly unfriendly to LDP candidates in recent elections. Independents won in the 2004 and 2007 upper house elections, and the governorship is held by a long-serving independent who first won with the backing of various opposition parties in 1997. The DPJ should do well in Akita. The first district is held by Manabu Terata, who when he won in 2003 was the youngest member of the Diet. Terata managed to win reelection in 2005 despite the presence of both a PNP and a JCP candidate in the race. He should cruise to reelection this year.
The DPJ may stand to gain in the remaining two districts. The second district pits Kiyohiro Yamamoto, an SDPJ candidate who won a PR seat in 2003, against the LDP's Katsutoshi Kaneda. Kaneda, a finance ministry OB who previously served two terms in the upper house before losing in 2007, may face an uphill battle in gaining the lower house seat. The race, however, has been thrown into turmoil by the recent decision by Hiroshi Kawaguchi, former mayor of Kosaka, to run as an independent. Both Yamamoto and Kaneda have reason to fear that Kawaguchi will draw votes from them, as Kawaguchi could draw votes from DPJ supporters uninterested in voting for an SDPJ candidate, while also drawing votes from conservative LDP voters. Should Kawaguchi win, he could end up joining the DPJ after the election.
In the third district, LDP incumbent Nobuhide Minorikawa faces DPJ challenger Kimiko Kyono and independent Toshihide Muraoka. In 2005 Kyono and Muraoka each received roughly 80,000 votes, with Kyono edging out Muraoka for second place to Minorikawa's 114,000 votes. The question is whether Kyono can, with the help of the DPJ's tailwind, cut into both Minorikawa's and Muraoka's votes to emerge victorious. I suspect she can.
The DPJ should win at least two of three in Akita, and will probably come out on top in the second district.
Yamagata, home to the LDP's Kato Koichi, is an LDP stronghold. It holds the prefecture's three seats, dominates the prefectural assembly, and holds the governorship. The DPJ is not contesting Kato in the third district. The DPJ's best chance is probably in the second district, where the LDP is fielding a newcomer Hironori Suzuki, to replace Takehiko Endo, Abe Shinzo's third minister of agriculture, forestry, and fisheries and the third to leave office under questionable circumstances. The DPJ candidate, Yosuke Kondo, is the son of a candidate defeated by Endo during the 1990s, but Kondo the younger has done well enough in 2003 and 2005 to win PR block seats. This is Suzuki's first bid for public office and will likely be defeated by the more experienced Kondo.
The LDP candidate in the first district, Toshiaki Endo, is close to Kato, and while he faces a tough DPJ challenger in Michihiko Kano, a ten-term Diet member defeated by Endo in 2003 and 2005 (he received a PR seat in 2003 but not 2005), he is probably a fairly secure LDP incumbent.
The DPJ will likely win one of three seats in Akita.
The DPJ stands to do well in Fukushima's five districts. The party has secure incumbents running in the third and fourth districts — Koichiro Genba and Kozo Watanabe respectively — and stands to win the fourth district, where its candidate, Izumi Yoshida, will be contesting his fourth election at the DPJ candidate. He won PR seats in 2003 and 2005, losing by 16,000 votes in 2003 and 20,000 in 2005. His contender is Koji Sakamoto, who in 2005 was a PR candidate on the basis of the LDP's "Costa Rica" system of having candidates alternate between SMDs and PR. With the LDP's phasing out the Costa Rica arrangement, Sakamoto has the chance to make this seat his. Sakamoto defeated Yoshida in 2003, but Yoshida will have the national trend and the absence of a JCP candidate (the JCP received 18,000 votes in 2005) working in his favor.
The first and second districts will be more heated. In the second district the DPJ is running Kazumi Ota, who won a by-election in Chiba-7 in 2007, against LDP incumbent Takumi Nemoto. Nemoto, an aide to Shinzo Abe for economic policy, may suffer from his association with Abe and faces a tough reelection fight against Ota, who is nicknamed "the DPJ's Jeanne d'Arc." Ota, fending off charges that she is parachuting into Fukushima, has spoken of a "marriage" with Fukushima. She should at the very least do well enough to be resurrected as a PR representative.
The first district pits the LDP's Tatsuo Sato, who won the first in 1996, 2000, and 2003 before running solely as a PR candidate in 2005, against the DPJ's Yozaburo Ishihara, a Fukushima city councilman, brother of the DPJ's candidate in 2003 and 2005, and son of a former Diet member. Ishihara's brother received 109,000 votes in 2005, the most yet for a DPJ candidate in the district, but still lost to the LDP candidate's 171,000 votes. The DPJ should do even better this time around, which makes the presence of JCP candidate Yutaka Yamada in the race troubling: the JCP vote could make the difference in a close race.
The DPJ will likely win four seats in Fukushima.
In 2005, the LDP bested the DPJ in PR voting in Tohoku, receiving 1,901,595 votes to the DPJ's 1,748,165 (six seats to five seats). Komeito received 620,638 votes, the JCP received 325,176, the SDPJ received 362,523, and the PNP received 244,933.
Running the simulator again (and using Yomiuri's recent PR polling figures), if the DPJ receives at least 41% in Tohoku — and if the turnout is the same as 2005, probably an unrealistic assumption — the DPJ could conceivably increase its PR seats in Tohoku to eight.
All told, the DPJ may be in a position to double its share of Tohoku's seats, from twelve seats to twenty-five.
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