Not only did Rep. Jim McCrery set off a scramble for one of the most coveted jobs in the House on Friday, but by announcing his plans to retire at the end of his 11th term the Republican also opened up a political free-for-all in northwest Louisiana.
No outright frontrunner emerged within either party over the weekend, after the 58-year-old ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee announced he is stepping down both because he is disappointed that Republicans had lost control of the House and because he wants to spend more time with his family.
Though National Republican Congressional Committee officials quickly promoted the idea that the Shreveport-based district is a solidly Republican territory that has repeatedly sent McCrery to Congress by wide margins, the voting patterns in the 4th district — like everywhere else in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina — remain hard to predict.
One big question unlikely to be answered before the 2008 elections: How much of the largely Democratic minority population that left New Orleans in the wake of the 2005 storms has since settled upstate in cities like Shreveport?
While Republicans can point to Rep. Bobby Jindal’s sweeping gubernatorial victory this fall as evidence of a GOP resurgence in the Pelican State, Democrats in the 4th were quick to note that Cedric Glover (D), who was elected mayor of Shreveport in 2006, is a popular local official in the district. Glover is the first black person to hold that post.
“There’s clearly been a demographic shift from New Orleans into Shreveport and Baton Rouge and I think that also adds a level of uncertainty to who will emerge and which party could dominate in a Congressional election in that district,” said Rep. Charles Boustany (R), who hails from the 7th district, which is located to the south of McCrery’s 4th.
Boustany added that another element complicating the race is the fact that a tough term-limit law passed in 1995 is now catching up with some state politicians, causing a historically large turnover in the Legislature this year and some reshuffling between the state House and Senate chambers.
Today there are “a number of legislators who had been in state Legislature for quite some time now probably looking to find some additional political work,” which will further complicate the picture, Boustany said.
“It will be an interesting scenario to follow,” he said.
While no clear-cut frontrunner rose to the surface over the weekend for either party, some names have been bandied about.
On Monday, Republican insiders were floating a few possible candidates: Steve Prater, the sheriff of the Caddo Parish (which is the district’s largest), Jerry Jones, a businessman who lost to Glover in the 2006 mayoral race but earned 46 percent of the vote, and businessman Chester Kelley, who challenged McCrery in 2006, which may not be looked kindly upon by state Republican officials.
One other Republican who could be in the mix is former Congressional aide Royal Alexander, who served as chief of staff to Louisiana GOP Rep. Rodney Alexander (no relation). This fall, state officials were calling Royal Alexander one of the Louisiana Republican Party’s young up-and-comers, but after being soundly beaten in his runoff for state attorney general last month, Alexander’s viability for a Congressional seat seems less likely.
On the Democratic side, Glover’s name has been mentioned for the seat, along with his predecessor in the mayor’s office, Keith Hightower (D). Though it’s unclear whether Glover would even be interested in serving in Congress, Hightower has acknowledged his interest in the job in the past.
A number of state officials could get in on the race on the Democratic side, including state Sen. Lydia Jackson of Shreveport, former state Senator and current public service commissioner Foster Campbell, state Rep. Taylor Townsend of Natchitoches and state Sen. Robert Adley of Benton, which is just north of Shreveport.
With his news Friday, McCrery became the 17th House Republican to announce retirement or a run for another office next year.
And though it certainly wasn’t welcome news to the cash-strapped NRCC, spokeswoman Julie Shutley said Monday that the committee remains confident it will keep the 4th district in the GOP column. President Bush carried the district with 55 percent of the vote in 2000 and 59 percent in 2004.
“Louisiana’s 4th district has come to rely on Republican leadership and a representative that fights for lower taxes and a strong economy. This will be no different in 2008,” Shutley said.
Meanwhile state Republicans said that whoever the GOP candidate is in the 4th, he or she will be bolstered by a Republican Party that is on the upswing in Louisiana.
“We feel pretty confident,” said Louisiana GOP Chairman Roger Villere.
Villere noted that sagging fundraising numbers for the national party is not really a concern in the Pelican State.
“We’ve been able to raise the money we need when we have excellent candidates. [Jindal] raised over $10 million dollars,” he said. “The national party, whatever we get from them that’s just extra … some states really depend on [the national party committees], we’ve never been that way. We’ve been more independent.”
But noting the changing demographics of the district and the fact that two major military bases lie in the 4th, former Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) argued on Monday that “a conservative Democrat, who would be strong on national security and national defense and good particularly on minority issues, I think would be a strong contender” next year.