Hokkaido, a DPJ stronghold

In 2005, the DPJ managed to win eight of twelve single-member districts in Hokkaido, while equaling the LDP with three of the block's eight proportional representation seats. By receiving three of eight seats, the DPJ in Hokkaido outperformed the DPJ nationwide, winning 33 percent of the vote and 37.5 percent of the seats, compared with 31.02 percent of the vote nationwide and 33.9 percent of the 180 PR seats.

Since 2005, the DPJ had a strong showing in Hokkaido in the 2007 unified local elections, increasing its total in the Hokkaido assembly to forty seats, with ten newcomers winning in addition to successful campaigns for all of the party's incumbents. At the same time, however, Harumi Takahashi, the LDP-backed candidate for governor in 2007 won reelection with 60 percent of the vote — and she is actively campaigning on behalf of LDP candidates, squaring off against DPJ-backed Sapporo mayor Fumio Ueda in providing assistance to candidates.

Hokkaido is home to heavyweight members from both parties: Takahiro Yokomichi, the leader of DPJ's former Socialists, represents Hokkaido's first district and Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ's president, represents the ninth district. In the LDP, Nobutaka Machimura, former cabinet member and current faction boss, represents the fifth district, Shoichi Nakagawa, the disgraced former finance minister, represents the eleventh district, and Tsutomu Takebe, onetime Koizumi lieutenant and LDP secretary-general, represents the twelfth district.

Aside from these heavyweights, however, the DPJ is fielding a number of strong incumbents. The Hokkaido second district will be one district to watch. Wakio Mitsui, the DPJ incumbent in the second district, first won the seat in 2003, defeating Takamori Yoshikawa, the then-incumbent LDP member. Mitsui won again in 2005, despite the Koizumi tailwind behind Yoshikawa, besting Yoshikawa by just over 2,000 votes. Mitsui won despite Chiharu Oka, JCP candidate's receiving nearly 30,000 votes. Oka will be running again, as will Honda Yumi, a SDPJ candidate. Mitsui has faced a divided field before — when he won in 2003 there were two independents in addition to Oka — so he arguably remains the favorite, given that the DPJ has demonstrated that it has become the opposition party of choice. But his margin of victory should reveal much about the DPJ's ability to draw votes away from other opposition parties.

The third district is also worth watching as it features a rematch in an ongoing battle between DPJ candidate Satoshi Arai and the LDP incumbent Gaku Ishizaki. These two have contested the third in every election since 1996, with Ishizaki winning in 1996 and 2005 and Arai winning in 2000 and 2003. 2005 saw the most lopsided victory yet, with Ishizaki's winning by more than 13,000 votes. Previous elections had been decided by less than 3,000 votes twice (1996 and 2003) and roughly 6,000 votes in 2000. Arai will likely win this seat due to the absence of a JCP candidate: the JCP received roughly 22,000 votes in 2005, more than Ishizaki's margin of victory.

The presence of a JCP candidate could be decisive in the sixth district, where incumbent DPJ candidate Takahiro Sasaki, who managed to win the seat for the first time in 2005 by little more than 2,000 votes. Being able to win in 2005 despite the national trend ought to help him this year, although the JCP will be fielding Kazutoshi Ogiu: the JCP drew roughly 23,000 and 18,000 votes in 2005 and 2003 respectively, and could draw votes from JCP. But, as in other districts, the national trend ought to prove decisive for Sasaki.

Hokkaido's tenth district may be worth watching for its national significance, in that the LDP gave its nomination to PR representative Yukari Iijima — a Koizumi assassin in 2005 — in her bid to defeat six-term DPJ incumbent Tadamasa Kodaira. In 2005, Kodaira won reelection despite Iijima and ousted LDP member Takafumi Yamashita's combining for nearly 30,000 votes more than Kodaira. It seems unlikely that Iijima will pick up all those votes, especially since the tenth includes Yubari, famous as the city that went bankrupt: can a candidate identified with Koizumi win this time around?

And what of the LDP's four incumbents? Hokkaido is obviously one location where LDP heavyweights will be tested. Nakagawa may be particularly vulnerable: Tomohiro Ishikawa, a PR representative, ran against Nakagawa in 2003 and 2005, and narrowed Nakagawa's margin of victory in 2005 to 23,000 votes, impressive considering that Nakagawa had previously won by 60,000 votes. Given his shameful exit from the Aso cabinet (and his association with the prime minister) and the growing strength of the challenger, Nakagawa could be one of the LDP's heavyweights to go down to defeat. Takebe is similarly vulnerable: Kenko Matsuki, his DPJ challenger, did well enough against Takebe in 2003 and 2005 to win PR seats, and may profit from disillusionment with the LDP and Takebe's tarnished reputation to win in 2009. Machimura may be slightly better off, but Chiyomi Kobayashi, the DPJ challenger, did well enough against Machimura in 2003 (losing by 9,000 votes) to win a PR seat. While she lost by 50,000 votes in 2005, 2009 is likely to resemble 2003 more than 2005.

In short, it is entirely possible for the DPJ to win all twelve Hokkaido SMD seats, a gain of four seats from 2005. Given the difficulty of squeezing another seat out of the PR vote, it needs a strong showing in the SMDs to squeeze more seats out of the Hokkaido block. One question in PR voting is whether Suzuki Muneo's New Party Big Earth, running two PR candidates (including Suzuki) in alliance with the DPJ, will win two seats, stealing one of the LDP-Komeito coalition's four seats.

(I used this d'Hondt method simulator to get a rough estimate of the possibility of the DPJ's winning a fourth seat. Using the Yomiuri Shimbun's recent PR voting poll, which put the DPJ at 41 percent and the LDP at 24 percent and using the total votes from 2005, the DPJ could pick up another seat if it polls at 41 percent or higher in Hokkaido.)

In short, it is possible for the DPJ to increase its seats in Hokkaido to sixteen, up from eleven.

Other posts by Tobias Harris: