House Outlook for 2008
Will the GOP Swing the Pendulum Back?
Louisiana (04) (Open Seat)
November 7, 2008 Update:
The candidates of both parties won their respective runoffs comfortably. Carmouche emerged as the Democratic candidate after overpowering his opponent by a 62 to 38 percent margin, while Fleming beat his opponent 56 to 44 percent. Both candidates will now square off in a general election on December 6.
October 6, 2008 Update:
Yesterday’s primary did little to clarify the picture in this northwestern Louisiana district. In fact, things are even cloudier than before, as both parties have runoffs scheduled for what was supposed to be the date of the general election. While the rest of the country chooses their representatives for Congress on November 4, voters in Louisiana’s 4th district will be choosing the candidates for their December 6 general election, postponed as a result of Hurricane Gustav.
On November 4th, Republicans will choose between physician John Fleming and trucking executive Chris Gorman. Fleming led the voting with 35 percent of the vote, while Gorman won 34 percent. Lawyer Jeff Thompson just missed the runoff with 31 percent, despite having the support of outgoing Rep. Jim McCrery.
Democrats’ choices are establishment-pick, district attorney Paul Carmouche and attorney Willie Banks. Carmouche was expected to win outright, but he captured just 48 percent of the vote, so he will need to improve by at least 2 percent to win the runoff. Banks could pose a challenge, despite capturing viewer than half as many votes, since he, like roughly 50 percent of the Democratic primary electorate, is African-American.
Overall, the district is heavily Republican and supported Bush with almost 60 percent of the vote in 2004. The eventual Democrat victor, almost certainly Carmouche, will be hurt by Election Day being moved from November 4, since Obama will no doubt increase Democratic turnout in this 33 percent black district. Carmouche could have used a clean, primary win, but there is still a chance he can pull it out.
Although it took a while for both sides to cast their leading men, it now appears the stage may be set for the general election. To assume the role of Republican Party nominee, attorney Jeff Thompson still must defeat several other candidates, but he has already earned the endorsement of the man he hopes to succeed, retiring Rep. Jim McCrery, and is seen as the clear frontrunner in the primary race.
On the Democratic side, hopes rest with district attorney Paul Carmouche who is touted for his conservative ”law and order” credentials in a congressional district that gave Bush 59% in 2004 and reelected McCrery for decades without much of a second thought.
Why, then, are Dems optimistic about their chances in a district that is usually deep Red? Special election victories in arguably similar districts like LA-6 and MS-1 have made them feel that a Democratic sun is shining, even in areas that usually provide the most shade for Republicans. A new resolve to fight for previously uncontested Southern districts and the district’s 33 percent African-American citizenry has combined to convince national—and local—Dems that this 2008 is the year of the donkey.
Outlook: Leans Democratic
September 29, 2008 Update:
Don’t let Don Cazayoux’s new poll fool you; the newly-minted Congressman’s reelection remains in serious jeopardy.
This week, Cazayoux released internal poll showing himself leading Republican Bill Cassidy by a solid eighteen point margin. That means Cazayoux is safe, right? Wrong. With intense media coverage of the special election, Cazayoux enjoys near-complete name identification throughout the heavily Republican district while his opponent, a newcomer to the race, is virtually unknown. Once Cassidy hits the airwaves, expect his vote share to rise at the expense of Cazayoux.
Even more troubling, however, is the fact that Michael Jackson takes a solid nine percent in the aforementioned poll. Jackson’s showing signals that he retains a significant following among African Americans in the district. Once Cassidy makes his case to the electorate, Cazayoux will need every one of Jackson’s black supporters to swim against the demographic and presidential tides. At first glance, Cazayoux’s poll seems nothing but smiles and sunshine, but a closer look reveals storm-clouds gathering on the horizon.
July 15, 2008 Update:
Newly-minted Democratic Rep. Don Cazayoux faces two new hurdles in his bid to repeat his May upset. The first fits the category of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Widely criticized special election GOP nominee Woody Jenkins made the last-minute decision to drop out of the primary just three days before the filing deadline. Instead the Republican nod will almost certainly fall to state senator Bill Cassidy who should now have an easy time of it in the primary. Republicans are much more excited by the prospect of a Cassidy candidacy and they believe Cazayoux’s days are now numbered.
The second unfortunate development for the freshman legislator is the independent candidacy of his special election primary foe. Cazayoux defeated state representative Michael Jackson by a 57-43 margin, but a three-way race will be a definite threat to Cazayoux’s chances of retaining his seat. Jackson who is African-American and still calls himself a Democrat, could very well split the Democratic vote with Cazayoux, who is white, a dangerous proposition in a district that is 33% black and where just 40% of the electorate voted for John Kerry in 2004. If Cassidy can hold the Republican line as Jenkins was unable to in the special election, the GOP could certainly defeat both Democrats come November.
May 31, 2008 Update:
Don Cazayoux’s special election victory over Woody Jenkins gave political observers some answers, but more questions as to the electoral environment in November. Cazayoux’s victory was expected—he led in all public and internal polling—but still startling, as President Bush carried the district by more than nineteen percent in 2004. Democratic spin-masters quickly labeled the Republican defeat as a signal of a noxious national mood for the GOP, while Republican pundits blamed the loss solely on Jenkins, whose controversial ties to KKK leader David Duke could not be overcome by any amount of independent advertising.
Regardless of wh
ether national or local factors dominated, the trends are disturbing for House GOPers. The NRCC and 527s dumped over one million into the race, but could not salvage the district. Meanwhile, the DCCC flexed its financial muscles and demonstrated how its fundraising advantage can be brought to bear in second-tier races in the fall. Victories by Cazayoux and Bill Foster in IL14 illuminate two other trends, as well. First, national Democrats are learning how to recruit moderate candidates in conservative districts, while the NRCC has been handicapped by its self-imposed policy of non-intervention in contested primaries. Look for these trends to continue in races across the South and elsewhere (AL2, AL5, MD1, FL21, and TX23 come to mind). Second, the classic ”tax-and-spend,” ”San Francisco” liberal argument isn’t working yet this cycle. Independent organizations tried and failed to tie Cazayoux to Barack Obama, and in an election year with so many big issues at stake (the Economy, Iraq, Immigration, Health Care, etc), Republican candidates will have to make a case on their own merits, rather than vilifying their Democratic opponents.
But the news from Louisiana isn’t all bad for the GOP. Unlike in Dennis Hastert’s old seat (IL14), Republicans are not stuck with Jenkins, who is still running, as their nominee in the fall. Furthermore Cazayoux’s primary opponent, Michael Jackson, promises to make the general election a ”thriller,” by running as an Independent in the general election. Assuming Jenkins is not the nominee, the GOP stands a decent shot at recapturing the seat on the back of presidential coattails this November.
In short, the special election raised more questions than answers. Observers of both partisan persuasions must turn to May 14th’s special election in Mississippi as the ”tiebreaker” between the national mood and local factors to explain special election results. If Republicans, who have a solid candidate in Greg Davis, win, they can breathe easier, but if Democrats prevail, the floodgates may open for a ”wave” election like 2006.
May 27, 2008 Update:
On May 3, Democrat Don Cazayoux pulled perhaps the biggest special election upset of the cycle, defeating Republican Woody Jenkins by three percent in a district that gave President Bush 59 percent of the vote in 2004. Although the seat is far from safe in the fall, Democrats have managed to put themselves in the driver’s seat with the November election just around the corner.
April 16, 2008 Update:
It’s still an upset if you can see it coming, right? In what should have been a GOP cakewalk, national Republicans are praying to reverse recent trends in Louisiana’s sixth district that could cost them yet another special election seat.
Although both Republican Woody Jenkins and Democrat Don Cazayoux easily emerged from primary runoffs, right now, all the momentum in the world is behind Cazayoux. Two polls—one Republican, one Democrat—report Cazayoux with a slim lead, and just last week, the National Rifle Association astonishingly endorsed the conservative Democrat. National Republicans, quick to perceive the urgency of the situation, have rushed to Jenkins’ aid and, despite their meager finances, have begun airing ads attacking Cazayoux’s tax record. If Democrats can win in this conservative, Southern district, it will be a bigger upset than Bill Foster’s victory in Dennis Hastert‘s old seat. If not, Republicans can take a deep breath, then go on to fight the countless other fires spreading throughout the Congressional landscape.
Democrats are feeling bullish about their chances in special elections after their surprise victory in Illinois fourteenth district. Their best pickup opportunity before November lies in Louisiana’s sixth district, home to retiring Representative Richard Baker. For the first time in memory, the election will not take place under Louisiana’s convoluted open-primary system, which was recently struck down by the Supreme Court. Instead, each party’s nominee will be named in a 4/5 runoff with the general election to occur on May 3rd.
For the Republicans, publisher Woody Jenkins and lobbyist Laurinda Calongne emerged from a bitter primary. Jenkins is the frontrunner, but Republicans fear his financial record makes him less electable than Calongne in a general election. Democrats are headed for a showdown between state representatives Don Cazayoux and Michael Jackson which threatens to expose racial divides in this 33 percent black district. Cazayoux was recruited by the DCCC and has shown solid fundraising, but Jackson’s strong ties to the African-American community and the Congressional Black Caucus (which is not openly supporting him) will be difficult to overcome. If Cazayoux and Jenkins prevail, prepare for a real race, otherwise, this looks like a Republican hold.
Outlook: Likely Republican
Republican Rep. Charles Boustany is seeking a third term in Congress this year, but could the third time be the charm for Democrats instead? After a seemingly endless wait, they’ve fielded African-American state senator Don Cravins Jr., whose father ran against Boustany in 2004, barely missing the runoff which Boustany went on to win handily.
Will a Cravins best Boustany in 2008? Democrats think it is a distinct possibility, despite the fact that Cravins entered the race during the last week of June, much later than the typical Congressional challenger. The DCCC is wholeheartedly supporting Cravins who has pledged to make Boustany’s acceptance of pay raises a marquee issue. Cravins himself is very pro-gun, saying, ”Some people play golf. I strap on a vest and gun for fun.” Cravins seems to be following the new Southern Democrat playbook in his bid to get elected in a district that is only 25% black and voted 60% for Bush in 2004. Those statistics and Cravins’ late start, though, definitely favor Boustany, but there’s no doubt he would have much rather not faced any challenger at all.