Baker’s Seat Creates Tough Primaries in Both Parties

Special General Election Expected to Be Competitive

Posted February 26, 2008 at 6:34pm

In less than two weeks, Democrats and Republicans in Louisiana will hold their first closed primaries in more than three decades in advance of two spring special election contests.

Early voting in those races began on Saturday, and while the outcome of the 1st district Republican primary will all but decide that district’s next Congressman, the 6th district race is proving to be more of a dogfight.

Democrats know that a win in the Baton Rouge-based 6th could go a long way toward stemming the statewide Republican excitement that came with the fall 2007 gubernatorial victory of former 1st district Rep. Bobby Jindal (R). It’s an enthusiasm that Democrats would particularly like to blunt in the lead-up to Sen. Mary Landrieu’s (D) tight re-election battle this fall. Landrieu’s seat presents the best, and perhaps only, pickup opportunity for Senate Republicans who otherwise are playing defense this election cycle.

Jindal won the 6th district with 57 percent of the vote in his 2007 gubernatorial campaign while Landrieu took the district with 52 percent in her 2002 re-election.

As the special election race in the 6th district developed in this abbreviated campaign period, state Rep. Don Cazayoux has proven to be a fundraising powerhouse for Democrats. According to Federal Election Commission reports filed Monday, Cazayoux has brought in more than a quarter-million dollars for his campaign in the less than two months since news broke in early January that 11-term Rep. Richard Baker (R) would resign.

“It certainly shows that people believe this seat is in play,” Cazayoux said on Tuesday of the $258,000 he has been able to raise in a district that up until two months ago had been considered safe Republican territory.

But Cazayoux’s nomination is no sure thing. Only about half of Cazayoux’s state House district falls in the 6th district, so a major part of his campaign strategy has been to increase his name identification in and around Baton Rouge. Over the Presidents Day weekend, Cazayoux was the first Democrat to go on the air with ads.

Cazayoux is facing four other Democrats, including attorney and state Rep. Michael Jackson, former state Senate candidate Jason DeCuir, and Andy Kopplin, the former executive director of the Louisiana Recovery Authority who was also a former top staffer for former Gov. Kathleen Blanco (D).

According to campaign reports, Jackson has been able to raise only about $20,000. DeCuir, whose campaign released a poll in early February showing him leading the Democratic field, had brought in less than $10,000 by Feb. 17. Kopplin had raised $126,000.

But money won’t be everything in this race.

“A closed primary system in Louisiana is brand new and very unpredictable, particularly with multiple candidates, and in the Democratic primary there is an additional complication of racial composition,” said Hunter Johnston, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and son of former Sen. Bennett Johnston (D-La.).

About one in three voters in the 6th district is black and the racial breakdown of the district could factor into the election if, as some political observers speculate, the contest comes down to a two-person runoff between a white candidate, like Cazayoux or Kopplin, and a black candidate, like Jackson or DeCuir.

If no candidate gets 50 percent of the vote in the primary next month, the top two finishers advance to a runoff in April.

“The secret to winning the Democratic primary will be the extent to which the candidates can win crossover racial votes,” Johnston said.

Whoever emerges from the Democratic fight will be the beneficiary of efforts by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which quickly moved to target the 6th district in its “Red to Blue” fundraising campaign and infrastructure program after Baker’s retirement announcement.

But Republicans remain confident that they can defend their Baton Rouge territory.

The Louisiana Republican delegation is already working to put together a victory fund that is expected hand over somewhere north of $75,000 to whomever is the eventual Republican nominee.

“My goal is to make sure whichever Republican candidate emerges victorious in the primary is going to be well-positioned to win this seat,” said Rep. Charles Boustany (R), who is heading up the victory fund effort.

Meanwhile, outside interest groups, like the powerful anti-tax group the Club for Growth, already are starting to get behind their preferred candidates in the GOP primary race.

On Tuesday, the club’s political action committee endorsed former Louisiana state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R), who took Landrieu to a runoff in her first Senate race in 1996.

Jenkins entered the primary contest with the most name recognition and is still considered the frontrunner heading into the last two weeks of the campaign.

But Jenkins is losing the fundraising battle. Former Baker chief of staff Paul Sawyer, who is well-liked by Louisianans on Capitol Hill and those from the Bayou State who work in the Washington, D.C., lobbying community, had raised $113,000 to Jenkins’ $80,000 through Feb. 17. But both men are being outraised by consulting company owner Laurinda Calongne, who had raised $181,000, though she loaned herself $115,000 of that total.

“In the 6th, the demographics have changed a bit; it’s grown,” said Louisiana Republican Party Chairman Roger Villere. “Unlike the 1st district [in the suburbs of New Orleans] that has stabilized and [the New Orleans-based] 2nd district, which has lost population, the 6th district has gained population. And we don’t really have any long-term history to know how that’s going to affect [voting patterns]. That’s the x-factor.”