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With Money Pouring Into Louisiana, GOP Sees Possible Sweep in Runoffs

House Republicans believe a sweep of the two Louisiana runoff elections set for Saturday remains a distinct possibility, a scenario that would increase their margin to 15 seats at the start of the 109th Congress.

Runoffs in the 3rd and 7th districts, located in the southeastern and southwestern corners of the Bayou State, respectively, have been hotly contested by both national parties, which have each poured more than $1 million into the contests.

The 3rd is the more competitive of the two, with former BellSouth lobbyist Billy Tauzin III (R) and former American Sugar Cane League President Charlie Melancon (D) locked in a tight struggle to replace Rep. Billy Tauzin (R), who is leaving the seat after more than two decades.

Across the state in the 7th district, which Rep. Chris John (D) left to run unsuccessfully for the Senate this year, heart surgeon Charles Boustany (R) has put together a far superior campaign to that of state Sen. Willie Mount (D), and is favored to win the seat tomorrow.

National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Carl Forti called a GOP sweep a “very real possibility” before adding that runoffs are notoriously unpredictable due to the difficulty of knowing who will vote.

The two House races are the only contests on the ballot in Louisiana since Rep. David Vitter (R) secured 51 percent of the vote to win the Senate race on Nov. 2.

Under Louisiana election law, all candidates run in an open-party primary and if no one receives 50 percent, the top two votegetters advance to a runoff.

The lack of a Senate runoff is widely acknowledged as detrimental to the turnout efforts of Melancon and Mount, though the latter clearly suffers more as a result.

“There have been some added challenges in the 7th district in particular” as a result of Vitter’s victory, acknowledged Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Communications Director Greg Speed.

“We are very much in the game and are making a big push into Saturday,” said Speed. He added that the turnout efforts in the 3rd and 7th districts are on par with the DCCC programs in recent special elections in South Dakota and Kentucky. They won both of those races.

In the 3rd district, Tauzin III led the primary voting thanks in large part to his last name. He carried seven of the district’s 13 parishes, running particularly strong in the coastal regions of the district.

While the elder Tauzin has stumped the district with his son in the final days of the campaign, he has not been the visible presence that many expected; that low profile is due at least in part to his health problems (he has battled intestinal cancer for much of the last year) but also likely an attempt to avoid the charge of nepotism being leveled by Democrats.

Led by the DCCC, Democrats have attacked the 30-year-old Tauzin as inexperienced and unreliable, pointing out that he transferred out of the Coast Guard Academy and has repeatedly asserted he is not a lobbyist despite being registered as one in the state.

In response Tauzin III has brought out a number of Republican heavy-hitters to testify to his competence; Vice President Cheney was in Houma — a key target area for both sides — Wednesday.

Internal surveys for both sides show a tight race with Tauzin holding a slight edge over Melancon.

The 3rd is one of the least Republican of the state’s seven House districts. In 2000, President Bush took 52 percent there.

The 7th district is more friendly ground for Republicans although the seat has been held by Democrats for more than three decades.

The district gave Bush a 13-point margin in 2000 even as John was winning with 83 percent.

More troubling than the nature of the district, however, has been Mount’s campaign, which has never truly hit its stride.

The campaign has yet to settle on a specific message, choosing instead to employ a scattershot approach especially with regard to its television advertising.

Boustany, a first-time candidate, has run a much more by-the-book campaign, outraising and outspending Mount and settling into a comfortable high single-digit lead over the Democrat.

“When you are the only show in town, it is a turnout effort,” said Amy Jones, a spokeswoman for Boustany. “People are going to have to realize this is an important election and go out and vote.”

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