Poll Shows Tight Louisiana Race

Posted November 19, 2008 at 6:55pm

In the final competitive House race of the 2008 cycle, Republican John Fleming and Democrat Paul Carmouche are polling nearly even in Louisiana’s Shreveport-based 4th district, according to a new survey conducted exclusively for Roll Call this week.

Fleming, a physician who is hoping to keep the seat of retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R) in the Republican column, led Carmouche 47 percent to 45 percent, according to a survey of 648 likely voters conducted Monday and Tuesday by SurveyUSA, an automated polling firm. However, the margin of error on the poll was 3.9 points, putting the two candidates in a virtual dead heat.

The survey also showed that two Independent candidates took a total of 4 percent and that 4 percent of voters were undecided.

Those results appeared to fall closely in line with a new poll from Fleming’s campaign conducted by the Republican firm Public Opinion Strategies, which showed Fleming ahead 43 percent to 42 percent, with 10 percent undecided. That poll of 400 likely voters was also conducted on Monday and Tuesday and had a 4.9-point margin of error.

Despite a new closed primary system instituted in part to put the Bayou State on the same voting calendar as the rest of the country, this year’s hurricane season forced Louisiana to amend its election time frame, and two Congressional races that required primary runoffs are holding their general elections on Dec. 6. Because of the late date, and the fact that no other race will be on the ballot that day, predicting turnout is very difficult, and both political parties are spending heavily to ensure their voters will show up at the polls.

The other election that will take place that day in Louisiana will be in the heavily Democratic 2nd district based in New Orleans, where indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) is heavily favored to win a 10th term.

The 4th district, which is 62 percent white and 33 percent black, appears set to split its vote along distinct racial lines. According to the new Roll Call poll, Fleming held a more than 2-1 advantage over Carmouche among white voters (63 percent to 28 percent), while Carmouche led black voters by a 9-1 margin (85 percent to 9 percent).

However, the turnout model used by SurveyUSA estimated that black voters will make up 27 percent of the electorate on Dec. 6. The polling memo notes that, “For every percentage point that black turn-out is higher than 27 percent, the contest tips one point more to the Democrat. For every percentage point that black turn-out is lower than 27 percent, the contest tips one point more to the Republican.”

By that math, Carmouche, who serves as district attorney for Caddo Parish, would need black turnout to be 30 percent in order to beat Fleming 46 percent to 45 percent.

Interestingly, the Public Opinion Strategies poll conducted for Fleming’s campaign this week had a 30 percent black sample. And a Democratic poll from Nov. 6-7 that showed Carmouche up 45 percent to 35 percent had a black turnout model of just 24 percent. The Democratic poll was commissioned by the Carmouche campaign and conducted by the Kitchens Group.

Although Carmouche polled slightly behind Fleming in the head-to-head matchup according to the SurveyUSA poll, Carmouche was slightly ahead of the Republican when it came to favorability questions.

Carmouche was viewed favorably by 44 percent of likely voters and unfavorably by 28 percent of voters, with 28 percent neutral or of no opinion. Seventy-five percent of black voters viewed Carmouche favorably and 10 percent viewed him unfavorably. Thirty-one percent of white voters viewed Carmouche favorably and 36 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Fleming was also viewed favorably by 44 percent of voters but was viewed unfavorably by 31 percent of voters with 25 percent neutral or of no opinion. Fifty-eight percent of white voters surveyed viewed the Republican favorably and 22 percent viewed him unfavorably. Meanwhile, just 14 percent of black voters surveyed viewed Fleming favorably and 52 percent viewed him unfavorably.

Although registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans, the northwestern 4th district is a conservative bastion that gave President George W. Bush wide margins of victories in both 2000 and 2004. In the 2008 presidential election, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) won every parish in the district except Caddo Parish (where Shreveport is located), which President-elect Barack Obama won by less than 50 percent. The SurveyUSA poll found that Bush’s job approval rating in the 4th district was 44 percent — well higher than his national ratings — and that 42 percent of voters had a favorable opinion of Obama while 42 percent had an unfavorable opinion of the president-elect. Just 14 percent of 4th district voters approved of the job Congress is doing.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been backing Carmouche since well before the Democratic primary, believing the conservative, anti-abortion-rights, tough-on-crime Democrat will run well in the 4th district. Although Carmouche, who is white, was forced into a primary runoff against little-known military veteran Willie Banks, who is black, he easily won the Nov. 4 contest, and the party is now spending heavily to make the seat the party’s 25th House pickup in what has already been a very good cycle for Democrats. Federal Election Commission reports show that the DCCC had already spent $426,000 on the 4th district race as of Tuesday.

National Republicans (and McCrery) had originally backed Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson in the Republican contest. But Thompson came in third in the contentious October primary and was eliminated from the party runoff. Fleming’s runoff against wealthy businessman Chris Gorman was particularly nasty, but since winning that contest, Fleming has been embraced by the National Republican Congressional Committee to the tune of $435,000 in independent expenditures as of this week.

In its ads, the NRCC has attempted to paint Carmouche as being soft on crime, focusing on the case of John Pilinski Jr., who was allowed to go free after numerous arrests and convictions rather than being prosecuted under Louisiana’s habitual offender law. Republicans have pointed the finger squarely at Carmouche in the Pilinski case, while Democrats argue that Carmouche secured a 10-year sentence for Pilinski and that his release from prison was the fault of a clerical error in the parish clerk’s office. Democrats have called the Republican attacks a smear campaign against a man who has served as district attorney for 30 years.