La. Voters Head to Polls Saturday

Posted December 5, 2008 at 1:46pm

Louisiana polling locations will open one more time on Saturday for the final two House races of the 2008 cycle.

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 races in the Shreveport-based 4th district and New Orleans-based 2nd district are still undecided.

But even with both parties pushing hard to remind voters that two seats are up for grabs, the turnout in both contests is still expected to be a mere fraction of what it was on Nov. 4.

The more competitive race taking place Saturday will be in the battleground 4th district, where Rep. Jim McCrery (R) is retiring. In that race, both Democrat Paul Carmouche and Republican John Fleming claim to have the lead, according to their internal polling numbers.

But as Baton Rouge-based pollster Bernie Pinsonat said Friday, “when you get down below 20 percent turnout, polls don’t really matter.”

While Carmouche spent Friday morning in the rural southern parts of the district, Fleming met with voters in downtown Shreveport. Both camps say they are confident of victory but Democratic and Republican officials privately admit the contest is a tossup. And in the last week of the campaign, neither side had slacked off on the attack ads they have rolled out in the one-month sprint since Election Day.

Carmouche and national Democrats have settled on a line of attack that is not unfamiliar to Fleming, who is a physician and made his fortune in sandwich store franchises. Like Fleming’s opponents in the Republican primary, Democrats have tried to paint Fleming as an out-of-touch millionaire whose sales tax and Social Security proposals only benefit the very rich.

They have also jumped on comments Fleming made regarding the busing of illegal immigrants into Louisiana. Ads hitting Fleming on those issues have saturated Shreveport-area television and radio stations with many coming from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. As of this week, the DCCC had spent about $1.16 million on the 4th district race.

As he did in the primary, Fleming has decried the attack ads as misleading and false, noting that Democrats have based their illegal immigrant attacks on a video clip from a forum where Fleming said he misspoke and said “illegal immigrants” when he meant migrant workers.

“These are the same attacks that [Republican candidate] Chris Gorman made” during the GOP primary race, Fleming said. “They didn’t work then and they aren’t working now.”

For their part, Republicans have attempted to turn what was expected to be Carmouche’s biggest strength into a weakness in the abbreviated general election campaign.

National Democrats were quick to back Carmouche before the primary in part because they thought his 30 years as Caddo Parish district attorney would help sell him as a tough-on-crime conservative to the district’s conservative voters.

But Republicans have focused on cases like that of John Pilinski Jr. — a convicted felon who was allowed to go free under Carmouche’s tenure as district attorney — to try to paint the Democrat as soft on crime. The National Republican Congressional Committee has spent $952,000 in independent expenditures on the race.

Democrats argue that Republicans are twisting the facts from a select few cases out of the tens of thousands that Carmouche has overseen as district attorney. They say that if voters ever thought Carmouche was soft on crime they probably wouldn’t have re-elected him as district attorney five times over 30 years.

In a district that is 33 percent black, the African American vote in particular will be a crucial factor in Saturday’s contest and the Carmouche campaign is hoping to get the black community to come out in force. To help in that effort Carmouche began airing a radio ad from President-elect Barack Obama this week.

But considering that Democrat Jim Martin touted an Obama radio endorsement and was still handily defeated in Georgia’s Senate runoff earlier this week, Republicans say they are uncertain whether Carmouche’s Obama ads will really be a difference maker.

Carmouche spokesman Bert Kaufman said Friday that the Georgia Senate runoff and the 4th district race represent two very different scenarios.

“We’re going to have a vibrant get-out-the-vote effort and we have not let the results of Georgia dictate any strategic changes in this race,” Kaufman said. “Paul has run his race and listened to the folks in the 4th Congressional district and I think his message is resonating.”

The other election taking place on Saturday pits Rep. William Jefferson (D) against little-known Republican Anh Cao in a district that is considered a Democratic stronghold.

Jefferson’s only weakness stems from a potential backlash over his legal troubles. The nine-term Congressman is facing multiple federal corruption and bribery charges and was challenged by several members of his own party in the Democratic primary.

On Friday, Pinsonat said Jefferson’s fate rests on voter turnout, and in a 64 percent black district he certainly starts with an advantage.

Jefferson has “a tried-and-true and very successful ability to get his voters to the polls.” Pinsonat said. “There’s nothing [Republicans] can do about changing the vote pattern. Blacks don’t vote for … a Republican against a black candidate. … [Jefferson] will get very few whites and Cao will get a few but not many black votes.”