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« This Week On PN Radio | Blog Home Page | Strategy Memo: Everybody GOTV »

Dems Win LA, GOP Sees An Opening

State Representative Don Cazayoux defeated a former state legislator in Louisiana's Sixth Congressional District last night, marking the second time in two months that Democrats have won a special election seat previously held by Republicans. Cazayoux took 49% of the vote to newspaper publisher and longtime political hand Woody Jenkins' 46%.

Cazayoux won Baton Rouge, the southern and western suburbs and most of West Feliciana and St. Helena Parishes, as well as the precincts surrounding Lake Pontchartrain. Jenkins took more traditionally Republican territory south and east of the city, as well as most of Livingston Parish. The two candidates split East Feliciana Parish, north of Baton Rouge along the Mississippi border.

The special election win marks the first time in three decades since 1975 that a Democrat will represent the district, based around Baton Rouge and east to Livingston Parish, near the northwest shores of Lake Pontchartrain. More importantly, Cazayoux's win offers further evidence that Republicans may face another Congressional landscape as difficult as the 2006 election, when the GOP lost thirty seats and the majority. A CBS News/New York Times poll out this week suggested 50% of Americans prefered a generic Democratic candidate for Congress, while just 32% prefered the Republican contender.

The election contest had turned unpleasant in recent weeks, with both parties spending heavily on advertising that painted unflattering pictures of their opponents. The National Republican Congressional Committee spent nearly $440,000 on the race, according to Federal Election Commission reports filed yesterday, while the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee expended nearly $1.2 million by the end of the contest.

National Democrats focused on Jenkins' tax issues and previous associations with some of Louisiana's more unseemly politicians. Republicans, on the other hand, sought to make the election national by running advertisements linking Cazayoux to Illinois Senator Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

"Don Cazayoux's victory this evening proves once again that Americans across our country want real solutions and reject Republicans' negative attacks," Pelosi said in a statement. "Democrats are winning in solidly Republican districts because the country agrees it's time for a change from the status quo in Washington," House caucus chair Rahm Emanuel added in his own statement.

Republicans, though, said their strategy of linking Cazayoux and other Democrats to Obama and Pelosi can work. GOP polls showed Jenkins trailing by nearly ten points before the two major Democratic figures were introduced into the race. Though Jenkins never broke 45% in internal polls, making the race a national contest kept it close despite Jenkins' own high negative ratings.

"When Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were introduced into this campaign, Don Cazayoux was leading by a large margin in the polls," an NRCC memo released last night said. "Since then, Republicans saturated the Baton Rouge airwaves in an effort to nationalize this contest and make the election about the real life consequences of a Barack Obama presidency and a continued Pelosi-run Democratic Congress. In that time, Republicans made substantial ground."

The NRCC has also made Pelosi and Obama an issue in neighboring Mississippi, where voters head to the polls to select a replacement for Senator Roger Wicker's House seat. Similar advertisements as those that ran in Louisiana caused the Democratic candidate running there, Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers, to respond, characterizing the association between himself and Obama as attacks. "This election speaks to the potential toxicity of an Obama candidacy and the possible drag he could have down-ballot this fall," the NRCC memo said.

Whether Obama and Pelosi become an effective issue for national Republicans is a question that could be answered when Mississippi voters head to the polls on May 13. But given that Democrats were able to win a congressional seat long held by Republicans, and one that gave President Bush a nineteen-point victory in 2004 and a generic ballot deficit similar to that the party faced a week before the 2006 elections, Republicans will need any help they can get.