In Jindal’s Footsteps

Republicans Eye Possible House Vacancy in His Louisiana District

Posted June 20, 2007 at 6:35pm

Louisiana politics are never boring but the stealth race in the Pelican State’s 1st district is anything but a potboiler so far.

But that could change in a hurry if Rep. Bobby Jindal (R) is elected governor this fall.

The second-term Congressman is the favorite at the moment to succeed Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D), who defeated Jindal in 2003 but is not seeking re-election this year.

For now, Jindal’s would-be successors are lying low. Despite being just four months away from the Oct. 20 all-party gubernatorial primary, no one has officially kicked off a campaign for Jindal’s seat.

Jindal needs 50 percent of the primary vote to avoid a runoff, which would be held Nov. 17. If he is elected governor, he likely would call a special election to fill his Congressional seat.

“No one wants to be first” to declare their House candidacy, explained one Republican operative in the Pelican State. “Right now [potential candidates] are just talking to people.”

If Jindal wins the governorship, the operative predicted only a week or two would pass before candidates began vying for the right to replace him in Congress.

Jindal would take office in January and presumably would call a special election almost immediately after that.

State Rep. Steve Scalise (R) is said to be interested in running.

He sought the 1st district GOP nomination in 2004 when then-Rep. David Vitter (R) ran to succeed then-Sen. John Breaux (D), thereby leaving the reliably Republican seat open.

Jindal, who narrowly lost his first gubernatorial bid the year before, decided to run for Congress. Scalise, who was not doing well in the polls or on the fundraising front, made way for Jindal and folded his campaign that August, three months before the election.

Scalise still has more than $100,000 in his federal campaign account from that aborted run, according to Federal Election Commission reports.

Scalise did not return messages for this story before press time Wednesday.

Meanwhile, last weekend, Slidell Mayor Ben Morris told the New Orleans Times-Picayune that he would make no decision on a Congressional bid until after the gubernatorial race but that he “probably” would seek the GOP nod if Jindal wins.

Two more names commonly heard as potential GOP candidates are Kevin Davis, St. Tammany Parish president, and John Young Jr., a member of the Jefferson Parish parish council.

The field ultimately will be much larger, according to the GOP operative.

“You’ll see two or three candidates from the north shore and two or three candidates from the south shore,” the source said.

The majority of the district lies north of Lake Pontchartrain but a small portion is directly south of the lake made infamous by Hurricane Katrina.

Despite the district’s lopsided geography, the population is split almost equally between the north and south shores.

“It’s all about who can get the most votes on the other side of the lake,” the source said.

Voting patterns just naturally align with the district’s geography because people north of the lake are not as familiar with politicians from the south end and vise versa.

Scalise and Young live south of Lake Pontchartrain while Davis and Morris are north-enders.

Another factor that significantly could affect an open-seat race is the district’s affluence.

Because the 1st district is relatively wealthy, a self-funded candidate could also enter the picture, according to the operative.

About the only thing that seems certain about this hypothetical special election is that a Democrat is very unlikely to win.

President Bush captured 71 percent of the district’s 2004 presidential vote and no Democrat’s name has even been floated yet.

“There is absolutely no question that this seat will remain in Republican hands as it is the safest Republican district in the state and we are pleased with the way the primary field is already shaping up,” said Ken Spain, a National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman.