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Blog Home Page --> House -- Louisiana -- 01

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.

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.

A Super Saturday For Scalise?

The special primaries in Louisiana's 1st District take place Saturday, when both parties will select their nominees for the special election to serve the remainder of the 110th Congress. The seat became vacant when Republican Bobby Jindal was elected governor and sworn into office in January.

Four Republicans are vying for the nomination, including State Senator Steve Scalise, who may have a geographical, as well as financial, advantage over the other three candidates. While most of the district's area is composed of the three counties north of Lake Pontchartrain, a large portion of the voters have resided just to the south, in Uptown New Orleans, Metairie in Jefferson Parish, and a section of St. Charles Parish.

As New Orleans City Business reports, Scalise is the only candidate hailing from the South Shore; State Rep. Tim Burns, Slidell Mayor Ben Morris and attorney David Simpson reside on the North Shore. Though no North Shore candidate has ever been elected to Congress in this district, City Business writes, for the first time a "strong majority" of the district's voters now live on the North Shore, a demographic change caused by Hurricane Katrina.

This would have hurt Scalise in a two-person primary race, but with three candidates splitting the North Shore vote, Scalise should win the primary with ease. Still, he will need to win 50 percent to avoid a runoff. If the primary does go to a runoff, Scalise will have a huge cash advantage. As of February 17, the final financial reporting date before the primary, Scalise had some $360,000 in the bank, more than 10 times the cash-flow of his closest competitor.

Democrat Gilda Reed is expected to easily win the Democratic primary. If Scalise and Reed both win 50 percent in their respective primaries, the special general election will be held April 5. If either party goes to a runoff, the runoff will be held April 5, with the general then moved to May 3. With the 1st the most Republican district in the state -- Bush won 71% here in 2004 -- the winner of Saturday's GOP primary is heavily favored to win the seat.

--Kyle Trygstad

Jindal Opens Another LA Special

The day before news broke about the ensuing retirement of Louisiana Congressman Richard Baker, Republican Bobby Jindal was inaugurated as Louisiana governor -- the first Indian-American governor in U.S. history. His elevation to the highest level of Louisiana state government leaves his 1st Congressional District seat vacant.

This heavily-Republican district, which encompasses part of the New Orleans metropolitan area, voted 71% for President Bush in 2004, and Jindal was not seriously challenged by a Democrat in either of his two congressional election victories.

The Monroe News Star reports that Republican State Senator Steve Scalise already has a $100,000 campaign account he opened years earlier when first considering a run for the seat. That should give him the early fundraising edge over the other Republicans who have announced their bids for the seat, including former Governor Dave Treen, Slidell Mayor Ben Morris, Jefferson Parish Councilor John Young and State Representative Tim Burns. One Democrat, University of New Orleans professor Gilda Reed, has been actively campaigning for the past year.

In October, Jindal defeated a large field of candidates in the election for governor with 54% of the vote. Since then, special election dates were set to fill the 1st District seat for the remainder of his term. A primary will be held March 8; a runoff will be held April 5, if necessary, followed by a May 3 special general election. If no runoff is necessary, the general will instead be held April 5.

-- Kyle Trygstad

Updated: Morris, the mayor of Slidell, released a poll today conducted for his campaign by Market Research Insight. The survey, conducted 1/8-9, contacted 300 likely Republican voters for a margin of error of +/- 6%. Morris, Burns, Scalise and Young were tested.

General Election Matchup
Scalise 27
Morris 22
Young 12
Burns 6

Notice a name missing? The pollster did not include Treen, a former governor, leaving some to speculate that other candidates don't seriously expect him to compete. Then again, they might also leave him out because they don't want to be seen trailing by fifty points to someone who vastly out-performs them.

Morris is not the only one to omit the governor. Scalise, in a Public Opinion Strategies poll out last week that showed him with a 7-point lead over Morris, also left Treen of the list.

-- Reid Wilson