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« Morning Thougths: Of Mitt And Montana | Blog Home Page | RGA Polling In NH »

Parties Get Top LA Picks

Little noticed as Democrat Bill Foster was busy picking up Dennis Hastert's seat in Illinois, Louisiana voters headed to the polls Saturday for primaries to replace retired Rep. Richard Baker and now-Governor Bobby Jindal. In both districts, the parties' preferred candidates made it safely through to a runoff, which will be held April 5.

Jindal's old First District, based in the wealthier parts of New Orleans down to Lake Pontchartrain and north to along the Mississippi border, is one of the most Republican-heavy in the state. Jindal won his initial election, to replace now-Senator David Vitter, with 78% of the vote as President Bush carried the district with 71%. On Saturday, State Senator Steve Scalise took 48% of the vote, and will face State Rep. Tim Burns in the April Republican runoff. Burns got 28%, but by holding Scalise under 50%, Burns has a chance in a few weeks.

The winner of the runoff will be a heavy favorite to take the seat over University of New Orleans professor Gilda Reed, the winner of the Democratic primary with 70% of the vote. Far fewer Democrats voted in the primary than Republicans, showcasing the district's strong GOP tilt; both Democratic candidates combined beat Scalise's vote total by just five votes.

Baker's old Sixth District, though, will not be as easy for Republicans to hold. Just west of Jindal's seat, the Sixth encompasses Baton Rouge and a few rural parishes north to the Mississippi line. The district also favors Republicans, voting for Bush with 59% in 2004 and offering Baker just one scare, in 1992. Thanks to Baton Rouge, though, the district is one of the most heavily African American in the country to be represented by a member of the GOP; about a third of district residents are black.

Democrats think they have a shot to pick up the seat, and State Rep. Don Cazayoux, the DCCC's favored candidate, led the pack on Saturday with 35%. Fellow state Rep. Michael Jackson earned 27% to win a spot in the runoff. Republican state Rep. Woody Jenkins came within 0.15% of avoiding a runoff and will face lobbyist Laurinda Calongne in April.

More Democrats cast ballots in the special election than Republicans, by a wide 45,000 to 30,000 margin, giving the party hope of a possible opening. Louisianans, used to being able to vote for candidates of both parties in primary and general elections (thanks to a unique primary system), are notoriously free of party ties, making a Democratic win in an otherwise Republican seat a distinct possibility.

The winners of all three runoffs will meet in a May 3 general election.