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Will Republicans Kick Away Another Special Election?

George W. Bush won 59 percent of the vote in Louisiana’s 6th district in 2004. That year, the district’s Congressman, Richard Baker (R), was re-elected with more than 70 percent of the vote. Two years later, Baker won an 11th term without major party opposition.

Yet in the special election in Baker’s Republican-leaning district, the Democrats have still another chance to swipe a Congressional district that, under normal circumstances, ought to stay in the Republican column.

Both parties will have runoffs on Saturday, with former state Rep. Woody Jenkins battling businesswoman Laurinda Calongne for the GOP nomination and state Reps. Don Cazayoux and Michael Jackson facing off for the Democratic nomination.

Jenkins came within a hair of winning his party’s nomination outright in the March 8 primary, while Cazayoux drew 35 percent to second-place finisher Jackson’s 27 percent in the Democratic primary.

If the expected happens — and in this political season that’s certainly not a given — Jenkins and Cazayoux will win their runoffs on Saturday and meet in the May 3 special election to fill the seat left vacant when Baker resigned to take a job in the private sector.

Jenkins served for almost three decades in the Louisiana House of Representatives, was the CEO of a local television station and, as the Republican Senate nominee in 1996, lost a squeaker to Mary Landrieu (D).

He is an icon among some conservatives, and his Web site cites endorsements from Family Research Council President Tony Perkins, Dr. James Dobson, Dr. Tim LaHaye and veteran conservative activists Paul Weyrich, Howard Phillips, Morton Blackwell and Richard Viguerie.

The problem, say some Republicans who are watching the race closely, is that Jenkins is an incredibly controversial figure who, as one put it, “brings a significant amount of ethical baggage at a time when Louisiana is looking to turn the page” on that type of politician.

Critics of the conservative have charged him with knowingly renting former Klansman David Duke’s mailing list, as well as raising money for relief efforts in Central America, during the 1980s, that never made it to the supposed beneficiaries. Political insiders also worry that other problems, including tax issues and business failures, could surface during the race.

“It takes about two hours on Google to find five good attacks ads on Jenkins,” says one conservative Republican who doubts that Jenkins can win the May special election. “[The David Duke charge] is a hit that will stand up. His defense doesn’t really matter.”

The Duke charge was leveled at Jenkins during the primary by one of his Republican opponents, but observers say it was handled crudely by a candidate who had no credibility. Jenkins rebutted the charge in his own TV spot, but Republicans worry that the accusation will have more resonance in the special election.

Interestingly, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been extremely tight-lipped about the race, apparently hoping that the controversial Jenkins will win the runoff.

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