If It’s November, It Must Be Louisiana Runoffs

Posted October 6, 2008 at 6:42pm

It’s official. The long slog that is the 2008 election cycle isn’t going to end on Nov. 4.

After Louisiana’s belated primary elections on Saturday, runoffs are still needed in two Congressional districts, and with the Bayou State’s revamped election calendar (caused by Hurricane Gustav), those contests will take place on Nov. 4 with the general election to follow in early December.

In the New Orleans-based 2nd district, indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) secured enough votes to head to a runoff with former television news anchor Helena Moreno. Jefferson was the top vote-getter Saturday, taking 25 percent to Moreno’s 20 percent.

In the battleground 4th district seat of retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R), neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were able to settle on their nominees Saturday.

After an expensive primary race, trucking company executive Chris Gorman and physician John Fleming will face each other in the Republican runoff. Fleming took 35 percent to Gorman’s 34 percent. The two men outperformed Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson — whom McCrery and national Republicans endorsed in the primary.

On the Democratic side, Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche, whom many state insiders thought would win outright on Saturday, just missed locking up his party’s nomination and will now take on veteran Willie Banks in the November runoff.

In the highly Democratic 2nd district, the winner of the Democratic primary should cruise to victory over Republican Anh Cao in December, but it will be interesting to see if Jefferson can hang on to his seat in the primary while facing down a federal corruption trial that is set to begin on Dec. 4.

Besides Moreno, five other Democratic candidates were also hoping to take advantage of the strong anti-Jefferson sentiment in the district. Greg Buisson, a media consultant for Moreno’s campaign, said that sentiment will carry the former anchorwoman to victory.

“We believe there is a very hard ceiling” on Jefferson’s level of support in the district, and internal polling shows Jefferson topping out at 40 percent, Buisson said.

But Jefferson, who is black, does have one distinct advantage over Moreno, who is white. The 2nd district is not only 64 percent African-American, it is also the only district in Louisiana — a 32 percent black state — to be represented by an African-American. Some observers believe that Jefferson supporters will make the argument that the seat should be kept in the hands of a black Representative next cycle.

In northwest Louisiana, the Republican battle in the 4th district appears to have the potential to get particularly nasty over the next month as Fleming and Gorman have pulled no punches in going after each other so far in the primary. Both campaigns said Monday they will be working hard to win over the 31 percent of voters who supported Thompson in the primary. Thompson said Monday he had no plans on making an endorsement in the race but that “it’s early” and that could change.

It seems that at the start of the primary runoff sprint, Fleming might have an advantage with Thompson voters as Thompson issued a press release in late September decrying how Gorman’s camp was “distorting the truth” about the records of both Thompson and Fleming. But on the other hand, the 31 percent of voters who chose Thompson on Saturday will surely make up a much smaller percent of the electorate that will head to the polls on Nov. 4 with the other national elections that will be decided that day.

Both Fleming and Gorman have spent large amounts of their personal fortune on their campaigns, and both camps said they have the funds to continue their heavy media presence during the primary runoff. Gorman was up on Monday with a new ad decrying the financial bailout bill that Congress passed last week.

National Democrats said Monday that they are happy to watch the Republican candidates spend massive amounts of money to knock each other down because that will only benefit the Democrats come December.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spokeswoman Kyra Jennings said now that Thompson is out of the election, “Gorman and Fleming will keep attacking each other, highlighting their flaws and extreme views for the next month. While Republicans ramp up their nasty primary, Paul Carmouche will get to continue to talk with voters about his independent leadership and tough-on-crime record, putting Carmouche in a strong position to win in December.”

But both Republicans and even some Democrats said Monday that national Democrats shouldn’t be so quick to assume that Carmouche will make it to December.

“It appears that the DCCC’s hand-picked candidate did not perform up to snuff. That should hardly come as a surprise given Paul Carmouche’s long and controversial history as a district attorney,” National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Ken Spain said.

Well-known Democratic state Sen. Lydia Jackson, who contemplated running in the 4th district primary herself, said that despite Carmouche gaining 48 percent in the primary and nearly locking up the nomination on Saturday, she believes the Caddo Parish district attorney will face a tougher challenge in a November race against Banks.

With his strong support from the national party, Carmouche will have significant advantages, particularly when it comes to campaign cash. But Jackson said Saturday’s primary “was a campaign where [Carmouche] was certainly considered the frontrunner, and I think everybody assumed it would be a cakewalk for him, and the fact that he didn’t get [more than 50 percent] has to make everybody take a second look.”

Jackson said that Banks, a bankruptcy lawyer and retired Army colonel who took 23 percent of the vote on Saturday, could be a surprise candidate in November. Banks is black, Carmouche is white and Jackson said Banks will benefit from a boost in African-American voters who will head to the polls on Nov. 4 to vote for Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) in the presidential race.

Banks said Monday that he plans to reach out to the Congressional Black Caucus in the coming days to seek the support of its members in his runoff battle.

CBC spokeswoman Keiana Barrett said that candidates often reach out to the CBC to seek support, but “I don’t think there’s been any formal discussion within the caucus about” the 4th district race.

Carmouche spokesman Bert Kaufman played down any idea that his boss underperformed on Saturday.

“Anytime you’re in a primary with four candidates, cracking over 50 percent is going to be difficult,” Kaufman said.