Louisiana Campaigns Will Continue Next Month

Posted November 3, 2008 at 6:57pm

For political junkies worried about coming down with a case of election withdrawal after all the votes are finally counted tonight, Louisiana is offering one more hit before the holidays.

Voters in two Bayou State Congressional districts will have primary runoff contests on their ballots today, and the winners of those contests will meet in early December for the final Congressional races of 2008.

Louisiana has been working under a revamped election calendar this year after Hurricane Gustav swept through the state in early September and caused widespread destruction just days before the state’s original primary date. In the wake of that storm, state officials and Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) decided to delay primary elections by a month, meaning that races requiring a runoff would have to wait until a Dec. 6 election before being decided.

In the New Orleans-based 2nd district, indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) is favored to win his runoff against former television news anchor Helena Moreno. The winner of that race will be heavily favored in this highly Democratic district over Republican Anh Cao in December.

In the battleground 4th district represented by retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R), both Democrats and Republicans will decide their primary runoffs today.

On the Democratic side, longtime Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche is expected to defeat little-known veteran Willie Banks after falling about 1,500 votes shy of locking up his party’s nomination in October.

Carmouche has been heavily supported by national Democrats, and several high-profile party leaders, including House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), have made trips to the district on his behalf since the October primary. Carmouche has outspent Banks 10 to 1 during the primary. and in the past month, the Caddo-based district attorney has made it a point to campaign hard in the district’s southern parishes — especially Vernon Parish and Beauregard Parish — where Banks performed strongest in the October election.

The GOP contest is a tighter affair with trucking company executive Chris Gorman and physician John Fleming locked in an expensive, and nasty, runoff battle.

Both have spent vast sums of their personal fortunes, and the latest Federal Election Commission reports showed Fleming had given about $900,000 to his campaign while Gorman has contributed nearly $1.7 million to his operation.

Although they hold similar views on many conservative issues such as limiting government spending and opposing abortion, the two have found plenty of reasons to disagree. Recently, Fleming went after Gorman in a radio ad for spending so much of his personal fortune on his Congressional bid when his Shreveport-based trucking company is facing “serious layoffs.”

According to local media reports, Gorman’s company has denied that it’s facing layoffs. Company officials have argued that while 35 employees have lost jobs because of a cutback at a Shreveport plant run by General Motors, Gorman’s company has also hired 60 employees in the past month.

Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson, who came in third in the October primary, said the negative ads from Gorman and Fleming has been “just relentless” and even nastier than before the October primary vote.

Thompson, who was backed by McCrery early in his campaign, has not endorsed either Gorman or Fleming since the October primary, but both are wooing the 31 percent of voters who picked Thompson in that contest.

Fleming has released a poll from mid- October showing him leading Gorman 43 percent to 35 percent, but Gorman’s camp dismissed that polling and has called the race a tossup.

Democratic operatives say they are happy to watch Fleming and Gorman go after each other in the runoff because they believe it will help their chances of picking up the district in December. Democrats say expected gains in House and Senate races across the country today, not to mention an expected presidential victory by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), will energize their base and help them pick up one more seat in this wave election year.

But Republicans argue that their chances of holding the 4th district seat are boosted by the December election date. One GOP operative said Democrats won’t have Obama on the ballot in December to help turn out black voters, who make up a third of the district’s population. And, the operative said, after the drubbing Republicans are expected to take in Congressional races today, GOP voters will probably want to end the year on a positive note and keep the 4th district in the GOP column.

Back in the highly Democratic 2nd district, Democrats are likely to win in December regardless of whether Jefferson or Moreno wins today’s runoff.

A Jefferson candidacy would be particularly interesting because the Congressman is facing a federal corruption trial set to begin Dec. 4. In the October primary, Jefferson faced six challengers who were all hoping to take advantage of the strong anti- Jefferson sentiment in the district. Jefferson won 25 percent of the vote in that contest, while Moreno picked up 20 percent. Moreno’s camp has been adamant since the primary that the continued anti-Jefferson sentiment will be strong enough to carry her to victory today.

But Jefferson, who is black, has 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 state that is 32 percent black — 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.

Some Louisiana observers this week said the 2nd district runoff has been low key compared to the 4th district. For Jefferson, that might be part of his campaign strategy in taking on a political neophyte.

“There’s no need for Congressman Jefferson to debate,” Jefferson campaign spokesman Eugene Green said last week. “Everyone knows his position on a variety of issues. The media has generated enough attention to the Congressman that it’s pretty easy” to know where he stands.