Louisiana Special Election Fields Set

Posted April 7, 2008 at 3:13pm

Three runoffs that were decided on Saturday in Louisiana didn’t offer any surprises, but they did set up one competitive special general election race a month from now — along with what should be an easy Republican victory.

In the 1st district seat that previously was held by now-Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), state Sen. Steve Scalise defeated state Rep. Tim Burns in the Republican runoff, 58 percent to 42 percent.

Scalise now will face college professor Gilda Reed — who secured the Democratic nomination last month — in the May 3 special general, but he is not expected to have too much difficulty in solid Republican territory. The 1st district, which gave President Bush 71 percent of the vote in 2004, is considered the strongest Republican Congressional district in the state.

Meanwhile, in the Republican runoff in the Baton Rouge-based 6th district, former state Rep. Woody Jenkins easily beat businesswoman Laurinda Calongne after he came within fewer than 100 votes of avoiding a runoff altogether in last month’s primary. Jenkins topped Calongne 62 percent to 38 percent, according to unofficial results.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Don Cazayoux cruised to victory over fellow state Rep. Michael Jackson. Cazayoux beat Jenkins 57 percent to 43 percent, according to unofficial tallies.

But a perhaps more important number in the 6th district runoff was the almost 35,000 total Democratic voters who came out to the polls on Saturday compared with just 24,500 total GOP voters who voted for either Jenkins or Calongne.

The Cazayoux vs. Jenkins race will be closely watched by both parties as Democrats attempt to steal what was once thought to be a fairly safe GOP seat, which former Rep. Richard Baker (R) held for 11 terms.

Jenkins is a well-known but controversial figure in Louisiana politics. And while there has been some indication that the National Republican Congressional Committee is giving second thoughts to contributing its limited resources to his campaign — in its post-runoff memo, the NRCC merely noted that “Jenkins has deep roots within the Baton Rouge community [and] enjoys strong conservative support” — Jenkins has received strong backing from powerful outside interest groups such as the Club for Growth.

After both of the candidates that the club supported in the Louisiana runoffs secured victories on Saturday, Club for Growth President Pat Toomey said in a statement that “it is clear that Republican voters in Louisiana want their representatives to fight for limited government, lower taxes, and less government spending. … We are confident both Scalise and Jenkins will win their general elections and will represent Louisiana taxpayers with the same courage and principle they have demonstrated in the Louisiana Legislature.”

Rep. Charles Boustany (R-La.) said Saturday night that Jenkins would have everything he needs to make sure the 6th district stays in Republican hands.

“Woody is a strong campaigner, and I will work to ensure he has the resources he needs to effectively get his message out to the people in the sixth district,” Boustany said. “He represents the values of the 6th district, which Richard Baker served so well.”

But Democrats are keen on Cazayoux in this campaign.

“Don is a strong, independent leader who shares the values and priorities of middle class families in Louisiana’s 6th District,” Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen (Md.) said in a statement. “Don would be a tremendous asset to our fight for change in Washington.”

On Monday, one Democratic operative on Capitol Hill expressed cautious optimism about the looming 6th district special general.

“Because special elections are so unpredictable and it’s a conservative district, Democrats aren’t already putting this one in the win column or saying it’s over yet,” the operative said. “We know the challenges we face here.”