New Louisiana Poll Worries Republicans

Posted April 2, 2008 at 6:47pm

An internal Republican poll is giving GOP leaders on Capitol Hill pause as they consider investing precious party resources in the special election taking place in Louisiana’s Republican-leaning 6th district, according to GOP sources.

Primary runoffs for both parties are set to take place Saturday, but indications are that former state Rep. Woody Jenkins should beat businesswoman Laurinda Calongne in the Republican runoff, while state Rep. Don Cazayoux is favored over fellow state Rep. Michael Jackson in the Democratic race. The winners will square off in a special general election on May 3.

National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said Wednesday that the committee, as per its policy, is staying out of the primary campaign and will support whomever the nominee is. However a Republican source said a Jenkins victory this weekend might mean that the national party will be supporting the Republican nominee more in spirit than with its checkbook.

Portions of a GOP poll conducted March 17-18 and obtained by Roll Call showed Jenkins down three points in a head-to-head matchup with Cazayoux. That’s not great math to begin with in a district that gave President Bush a 19-point margin of victory in the 2004 presidential campaign and repeatedly sent former Rep. Richard Baker (R) to Congress by large margins.

But the numbers get worse when looking at specific important voting blocs in the Baton Rouge-based 6th district. Men 55 and older preferred Cazayoux 51 percent to 38 percent, voters who turned out in the special March primary would vote for Cazayoux 53 percent to 39 percent and those voters who said they are definitely going to vote in the special preferred Cazayoux by nine points.

Jenkins is well known in the Baton Rouge-based district, but he is also a somewhat controversial figure. In the primary race last month, one of Jenkins’ challengers accused him of buying a mailing list from former Ku Klux Klan leader and political candidate David Duke during Jenkins’ unsuccessful 1996 Senate campaign. Jenkins responded by saying he never knew Duke had ties to the firm that his campaign bought the mailing list from and called the accusation a smear.

Regardless of Jenkins’ personal issues, many state Republicans felt he would be a sure bet in the 6th district primary, what with the name recognition he’s earned from owning several local newspapers and and after having come within 6,000 votes of now-Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) in their 1996 Senate race. The fact that Jenkins was actually forced into a runoff — albeit by less than 100 votes — may have given Republicans some doubts about his viability.

Still, Louisiana Republicans on Capitol Hill and back in the district dismissed the notion that the national party could be considering backing away from a Jenkins candidacy, especially when Jenkins has such influential outside supporters like the Club for Growth and some big-money names in the district.

“I think it would be foolish to pull out of any race. We’ve got a Republican with a real shot whether it be Jenkins or Calongne,” said Louisiana Republican Party spokesman Matt Parker. “It being a special where there’s not a lot of focus in other places, I think it’d be great if the national party does get involved, which they’ve said they will.”

Parker said the state party is going to sit down with the nominee after Saturday “and figure out what they need. … Obviously money will be something we want to help them out with and volunteers, the whole bit.”

Back on Capitol Hill, a 6th-district victory fund has been set up in conjunction with the NRCC to provide funds for the eventual nominee, and Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) has taken a lead role in getting fellow Members to contribute to that account.

“We’re putting together a candidate fund to raise money for whichever candidate it will be,” Boustany said. “We’re determined to do what we can to hold the seat.”

Boustany has contributed $2,000 to that account and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has given $5,000 through his Freedom Project Political Action Committee.

“I can’t speak directly for what the NRCC is going to do in terms of funds from their account,” Boustany said. “I do know that we’ve been tasked to raise money among Members and … I’m getting positive responses and getting money into the campaign account.”

Whomever the nominee is, they’ll need the cash. Cazayoux had collected more than $300,000 for his campaign through mid-March while Jenkins had pulled in $210,000. Calongne had raised less than $50,000 but has been mostly self-funding her campaign, while Jackson, who was once hoping to win the support of the Congressional Black Caucus, was also under the $50,000 mark.

“I would be shocked if [the national Republican Party is] not in here,” said Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster with the nonpartisan Southern Media & Opinion Research. “This is a seat a Republican should win. This is a seat the demographics say is still Republican. … A lot of people think Woody’s controversial, but he’s very popular in Baton Rouge.”

Saturday will also see the runoff election in the Republican primary in Louisiana’s 1st district, where state Sen. Steve Scalise is favored over state Rep. Tim Burns. The winner of that race will be heavily favored over college professor Gilda Reed (D) in the May 3 special election to replace former Rep. Bobby Jindal (R), who was elected governor last fall.

David M. Drucker contributed to this report.