Fire on the Bayou

Posted April 23, 2008 at 6:28pm

With one week left in the tightly contested special election in the once-reliably Republican 6th district of Louisiana, a slew of conservative groups are stepping up their attacks against state Rep. Don Cazayoux, the Democratic nominee.

Anti-tax group the Club for Growth will unveil a $100,000 ad buy today in the Baton Rouge-based district that whacks Cazayoux for his record on economic issues. But it is only the latest conservative hit on Cazayoux.

Democrats say the intensity of the attacks should be interpreted as a sign of Republican desperation in the May 3 election, which pits Cazayoux against controversial former state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R).

But some of the recently aired ads also have the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee crying foul.

On Tuesday the DCCC filed its second complaint with the Federal Election Commission in as many weeks, accusing the independent political group Freedom’s Watch of breaking campaign finance rules by illegally advocating for the defeat of Cazayoux in its latest ad, which discusses Cazayoux’s tax votes. The DCCC is also asking the FEC to investigate Freedom’s Watch for not disclosing the names of donors who funded the ad.

The DCCC’s earlier complaint accused Freedom’s Watch of illegally coordinating its advertising campaign with the National Republican Congressional Committee.

Ed Patru, the vice president of communications for Freedom’s Watch and a former NRCC official, called both complaints “total nonsense.”

“The reality is that the DCCC is in a race against the clock to keep Don Cazayoux’s record of tax hikes and support for Barack Obama’s policy ideas out of the public domain until after May 3,” Patru said. “So they’re focusing on process arguments; we’re focusing on Cazayoux’s issue stances and voting record.”

DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said the sudden influx of ads by Freedom’s Watch and several other conservative groups is a clear signal that Republicans are running scared in the 6th district.

“Republican groups are distorting Don Cazayoux’s independent record and attempting to link him to national figures because they know he’s the stronger candidate,” Jennings said.

But Bernie Pinsonat, a pollster with the nonpartisan Southern Media & Opinion Research, said the volume of conservative ads doesn’t necessarily translate into Democratic strength.

“This is Louisiana, Republicans have an enormous amount of money here,” Pinsonat said. “There’s so many organizations in Louisiana with Republican leanings that if you’re a Democrat in Louisiana, you are going to get bombarded by numerous sources.”

Considering Cazayoux’s relatively low name ID at the beginning of the race compared to Jenkins’, Cazayoux “was like Obama in the early primaries,” Pinsonat said. “He was a fresh face, his ads were very complimentary and nobody was attacking him.”

Now, he said, you can’t turn on the television or radio without somebody taking a shot at Cazayoux.

“I can assure you his negatives are rising by the hour and he’s not the same guy who he was 20 days ago that nobody knew,” Pinsonat said.

But whether those ads have been enough to beat Cazayoux remains to be seen.

Jennings said that with the close 6th district race that has developed in Louisiana and the tight special election that is also under way in the 1st district of Mississippi, Democrats are showing they can play in the South, which has long been a Republican stronghold in federal elections.

“The fact that Democrats are competitive in what should be two safely Republican seats speaks volumes about the opportunities we have this year and it has to be a huge concern for national Republicans,” she said.

NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said the DCCC is reading too much into these special elections, which by their nature are almost always competitive.

“Democrats better hope that they can meet the incredibly high expectations they are setting for the fall,” Spain said. “Pointing to the competitive nature of special elections and claiming that the moon, the stars and the sun are somehow potential pickup opportunities as a result of it, is simply not based in reality.”