In a special election that will be viewed as an important signpost six months before the November elections, Democrats are poised to steal a once-safe Republican seat in Louisiana, according to a new poll conducted exclusively for Roll Call.
Heading into Saturday’s special election to replace former Rep. Richard Baker (R), state Rep. Don Cazayoux (D) appeared to have a solid lead over former state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R) in an automated poll taken Sunday through Tuesday by SurveyUSA.
In the poll, Cazayoux was the choice of 50 percent of the 501 likely special election voters, while Jenkins was named by 41 percent. The poll had a 4.5-point margin of error.
If Cazayoux prevails in a district that gave President Bush 59 percent of the vote in 2004, it will be the second GOP-leaning seat that Democrats have picked up in special elections this year — and a major blow to Republicans’ efforts to win back control of the House.
It may sound overly simplistic to say that the outcome of Saturday’s special election for the Baton Rouge-based seat will depend on turnout, but the SurveyUSA poll gave some insight into exactly why that is the case.
Among white voters, Jenkins had a 5-point lead, while Cazayoux had a 5-1 advantage among black voters (the district is 63 percent white and 33 percent black). Among voters age 50 or older, Jenkins was up by 5 points, but among voters younger than 50, Cazayoux had a 20-point advantage. Among men, the contest was even, while among women, Cazayoux led by 19 points.
The survey memo notes that “if voters are older and/or whiter than SurveyUSA here foresees, the Republican will outperform these numbers.”
Despite enduring two weeks of constant attacks on the air from Republicans and independent conservative groups, Cazayoux had a net favorability rating of plus-15 (43 percent favorable, 28 percent unfavorable and 28 percent neutral or unfamiliar), according to the poll.
Jenkins, who came into the race with much higher name identification but who was known as a controversial figure, had a minus-13 favorability rating (36 percent favorable, 49 percent unfavorable and 14 percent neutral or unfamiliar).
If those favorability ratings hold through Saturday, the Republican strategy of driving up Cazayoux’s negatives among an electorate that was just getting to know him will have failed.
Only about half of Cazayoux’s state House district — with its 25,000 registered voters — falls within the 6th Congressional district, therefore much of Cazayoux’s early campaign focused on introducing himself to voters.
Considering Cazayoux’s relatively low name ID at the beginning of the contest Republicans have mostly focused on casting the state legislator from the western portion of the district in a negative light.
But it seems that while Cazayoux’s negatives have increased, so too have Jenkins’.
An early April poll released by Cazayoux’s campaign showed the Democrat had a 55 percent to 13 percent favorable/unfavorable rating, while Jenkins had a 56 percent to 34 percent favorable/unfavorable rating.
Besides Jenkins’ somewhat modest ad buys, no less than four conservative groups, including the National Republican Congressional Committee, have gone to work against Cazayoux since he won his party runoff in early April.
Despite an initial hesitancy over whether to even play in the race because of the baggage Jenkins brought to his campaign (in his March primary race, 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), the NRCC has committed significant resources to the contest. According to Federal Election Commission filings, the committee has dropped more than $325,000 in independent expenditures on the race in just the past two weeks.
Meanwhile the independent political group Freedom’s Watch has spent about half a million dollars on TV ads in the 6th district. More than one of the ads produced by Freedom’s Watch has brought complaints from Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which has asked the FEC to open investigations into two of those ads. The DCCC is also asking the Internal Revenue Service to strip Freedom’s Watch of its tax-exempt status. On Wednesday, one of the group’s ads was pulled from the air by a CBS affiliate in Baton Rouge
Other anti-Cazayoux independent expenditures have come from the anti-tax group the Club for Growth — which has spent more than $110,000 on the contest — and Lane Grigsby, a wealthy construction company owner, who has a history of getting involved in Bayou State campaigns. Grigsby had dropped more than $100,000 in independent expenditures on the race since April 17.
The DCCC meanwhile has spent more than $600,000 on ads and other independent expenditures in just the last two weeks. Cazayoux received additional support this week when the Service Employees International Union decided to buy air time in the race.
Democrats have said the intensity of the attacks by the NRCC and other conservative organizations should be interpreted as a sign of Republican desperation in the special election.
Republicans counter that Cazayoux’s ties to national figures, like presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), are more likely the cause of so much animosity for his campaign.
“By the looks of Don Cazayoux’s ads, he is on the defensive,” NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said Wednesday. “His support for Barack Obama’s radical health care agenda and his long record of raising taxes is becoming a growing liability for him.”
DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider said the NRCC is out of touch with what’s happening on the ground in the district.
“The reality is that heading into this election Woody Jenkins was an extremely flawed candidate,” Crider said. “You only needed to read Republican comments to see where his greatest vulnerabilities were.
“The fact is that Woody Jenkins is out for one person, Woody Jenkins,” Crider added. “Don Cazayoux is out in the community working to be an independent voice and representative of the community. And as much as Republicans want to make this about people outside [the 6th district], the reality is that voters know that this is a race between Don Cazayoux and Woody Jenkins.”