Louisiana Political Mysteries to Be Solved by Friday

Posted July 9, 2008 at 6:35pm

Louisiana’s three days of general election qualifying opened Wednesday with a couple of surprising moves in the battleground Baton Rouge 6th district.

First, failed special election candidate Woody Jenkins (R) announced that he would not run again this fall, leaving state Sen. Bill Cassidy as the GOP frontrunner against newly elected Rep. Don Cazayoux (D).

On the other side of the aisle, state Rep. Michael Jackson — who lost the Democratic special election runoff to Cazayoux in the spring — said Wednesday that he expects to file for the general election by Friday and that he is “very likely” going to run as an Independent.

Both announcements are sure to excite Republicans as they fight to win back a once-safe GOP seat that they lost in a May special election. And there could be a harbinger of key developments to come today and Friday in other potentially competitive Louisiana House districts.

Jenkins, a former state Representative, was defeated by Cazayoux in the second of three especially painful special election losses for the House GOP this spring. Since that election, national Republican leaders have referred to Jenkins as a “flawed candidate,” and party officials in Washington, D.C., had been skeptical about his chances of defeating Cazayoux in a fall rematch despite the fact that he would likely do well again in the Republican primary.

From the minute he lost to Cazayoux, Jenkins, who was also the GOP nominee in the 1996 U.S. Senate race, had been planning to run again in the fall.

But Jenkins said Wednesday morning that though he expected he could win a primary against Cassidy, who announced his intention to run in June, “it could have gotten divisive.”

Cassidy wasn’t a candidate during the spring special election, but he appears to be the candidate that state party officials, including popular Gov. Bobby Jindal (R), are lining up behind.

Jenkins said that after much prayer, he made his decision to skip the race on Tuesday.

“It’s a difficult year for Republicans and it’s very important that we’re united,” he said.

A week after Cassidy announced his intention to run, businesswoman Laurinda Calongne (R), who lost the 6th district special election primary to Jenkins in April, announced that she would not be a candidate again in the fall.

Jenkins said Wednesday that though qualifying is still open and he’s not yet prepared to give his official endorsement, “I think Cassidy probably is going to be the only candidate and he will be a good candidate. … It’s just important that we all pull together to put our candidate over the top. We can’t be fighting each other and expect to win in these kinds of districts.”

Meanwhile, Jackson’s decision to enter the race could create a drain on Cazayoux’s base of support.

Cassidy and Cazayoux are both white, and if Jackson were to run, he would be the lone black candidate in a district that is 33 percent black.

Jackson, the vice chairman of the Louisiana Legislative Black Caucus, said he’s fully aware that some Republicans want him in the race and that Democratic leaders want him on the sidelines.

“Both sides have shown an interest in whether or not I’m in this race,” he said. “Republicans feel it might help their position and Democrats feel like it may hurt their position.”

However, Jackson said, “my goal would be to run to win and to maximize the opportunity and to maximize my chances. and it appears that the best way to do that right now is to do it as an Independent.”

Jackson, whose state legislative district is in Baton Rouge, said the main reason he’s filing as an Independent is because he’s concerned about the cost of running in a primary and general election.

During the special election primary and subsequent runoff, Cazayoux spent about 10 times more money than Jackson. Cazayoux won the runoff 57 percent to 43 percent and went on to beat Jenkins 49 percent to 46 percent. All told, Cazayoux spent about $1.5 million on his special election campaign. (The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee also poured in massive amounts of money in the form of independent expenditures during the special general.)

“We’re just trying to utilize our resources in a way that makes sense,” Jackson said.

But he added that although he would be on the ballot as an Independent, he intends to preach a Democratic message during his campaign.

“It’s not that I’m disassociating myself [from] the Democrats … my banner will be an Independent-Democrat, I’ll stay connected to the philosophy that way.”

As the news about Jenkins and Jackson came in Wednesday, Republicans couldn’t hide their excitement over what it meant for winning back a seat that former Rep. Richard Baker (R) easily held during his 11 terms in Congress.

“The dynamics of this race seem to have dramatically shifted,” said Ken Spain, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. “With Bill Cassidy off to a great start, a divided Democratic Party and Don Cazayoux’s newly acquired record of blocking common sense energy legislation, this could potentially develop into a totally different race.”

But DCCC spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said that regardless of the early filing news, Cazayoux has his general election race well in hand.

“Congressman Cazayoux has hit the ground running, addressing the issues people care about in his district and building on his strong base of support, which is why he will win re-election in November,” Jennings said.

Elsewhere around Louisiana, attorney and former Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson (R) officially filed Wednesday for the open 4th district seat being vacated by Rep. Jim McCrery (R). His papers came one day after he went up with his first television ad of the campaign.

Thompson, who has been endorsed by McCrery and several national party leaders, appears to be the establishment candidate in his primary race, but wealthy trucking company executive Chris Gorman (R) and physician and Navy veteran John Fleming (R) are also running. Gorman went up with his first television ads in April.

On the other side of the aisle in the Shreveport-based 4th district, national Democrats are keen on Paul Carmouche, a well-known local prosecutor. Carmouche has been added to the DCCC’s “Red to Blue” fundraising and infrastructure program and is hoping to gain the support of the Blue Dog Coalition of fiscally conservative Democrats.

But despite the support from party leaders, Carmouche may still be in for a difficult primary if state Sen. Lydia Jackson decides to file for the race this week.

Jackson, who is black, is well known in the Shreveport area since being elected to the state Senate in 2003. She would be considered a formidable opponent to Carmouche in a district that is 33 percent black.

By Friday’s filing deadline, Rep. Rodney Alexander (R) will learn whether he has a major Democratic opponent. And indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) will learn how many Democratic primary opponents he has. State Rep. Cedric Richmond (D) and Jefferson Parish Councilman Byron Lee (D) have already announced their intention to run.