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« IN All Tied Up | Blog Home Page | Lautenberg Leads Full Poll »

LA Nominees Chosen

Runoff elections to choose nominees for two open Louisiana Congressional seats produced mixed results for Republicans over the weekend as Democrats think they have a chance to pick off another special election leading into November.

Republicans got the candidate they wanted in the state's First District, where State Senator Steve Scalise outpaced his GOP opponent and is heavily favored to win election in now-Governor Bobby Jindal's old seat. But in the Baton Rouge-based Third District, Republicans nominated a decidedly weaker candidate while Democrats picked up their favored candidate.

Former State Senator Woody Jenkins, a Republican who ran against Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu in 1996, easily defeated lobbyist Laurinda Calongne by a 62%-38% margin. Jenkins, now a newspaper editor, is heavily associated with the religious right and has been tied to white supremacist David Duke, from whom he bought a campaign list during the 1996 Senate race. Jenkins has denied the tie and said that had he known Duke was associated with the company, he would not have made the purchase.

Jenkins will face Democratic State Rep. Don Cazayoux (pronounced "ca-zhou," almost like the kind of nut), a conservative Democrat who last week won the endorsement of the National Rifle Association. The two are vying to replace former Rep. Richard Baker, who resigned to take a position with the national hedge fund lobby, in a special election on May 3.

Baker's district, based around Baton Rouge, to the northwest of New Orleans, has voted heavily for Republicans in the past, including for President Bush by twelve points in 2000 and by nineteen points in 2004. Baker had a tough race in his initial effort, in 1986, and finished with just 51% in both 1992 and 1998, though he was generally re-elected by wide margins.

Still, Democrats are hopeful they can paint Jenkins as a radical while promoting Cazayoux as a moderate, or even a conservative. An internal Republican poll found Cazayoux leading Jenkins by three points, Roll Call's John McArdle reported, and among key demographics, including older men, the Democrat leads by even wider margins. One Republican told McArdle that Jenkins' win could mean the National Republican Congressional Committee is supporting him in little more than spirit.

An NRCC memo after Jenkins' win touted their candidate's "deep roots" in the Baton Rouge area, along with Bush's big margins and Jindal's 55% win in the district, a higher percentage than he received throughout the state. A statement from DCCC chairman Chris Van Hollen touted Cazayoux as "a strong, independent leader who shares the values and priorities of middle class families" in the district.

If Republicans lose, it would be the second special election this year in which the party has failed to retain a seat vacated by one of their own members. Democrats picked up a special election win in Illinois in early March when scientist and businessman Bill Foster beat investor and dairy magnate Jim Oberweis to win back former Speaker Dennis Hastert's Aurora-based seat.