Louisiana, Finishing Late Again

Posted November 7, 2008 at 6:30pm

As has often been the case over the years, Louisiana will get the last word of the election cycle.

Despite a new closed primary system instituted in part to put the Bayou State on the same voting calendar as the rest of the country, this year’s hurricane season forced Louisiana to amend its election time frame, and two Congressional races that required primary runoffs will now hold general elections on Dec. 6.

The more competitive of those two races is taking place in the Shreveport-based 4th district of retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R), where Caddo Parish District Attorney Paul Carmouche (D) and physician John Fleming (R) won their respective primaries on Tuesday and earned the right to battle it out in a four-week general election dash.

Carmouche had the easier runoff contest on Tuesday, beating little-known military veteran Willie Banks 62 percent to 38 percent in a relatively low-key campaign. On the other hand, the Republican runoff was a hard-fought and fairly nasty affair, which Fleming won with 56 percent over wealthy trucking company executive Chris Gorman, who took 44 percent.

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has been backing Carmouche since well before the Democratic primary, believing the conservative, anti-abortion-rights, tough-on-crime Democrat will run well in the conservative 4th district. National Republicans (and McCrery) had originally backed Bossier Chamber of Commerce President Jeff Thompson in the Republican contest. But Thompson came in third in the October primary and was eliminated from the party runoff.

Both national parties have already begun gearing up for the final battle of the cycle, and both sides have dispatched staffers to the northwest Louisiana district. The DCCC began airing a $60,000 ad buy in the district on Friday, and further buys are expected. The National Republican Congressional Committee has reserved $330,000 in airtime in the district through Dec. 6.

Carmouche had raised a little more than $1 million for his campaign through last week, and campaign financial reports show that he’s been supported with tens of thousands of dollars in donations from the political action committees of well-known House Democrats such as Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.). He has also received multiple donations from the Blue Dog Coalition of conservative Democrats.

Fleming had raised about $1.25 million for his Congressional bid, but some $900,000 of that came from personal loans he’s made to his campaign.

Fleming, who made his fortune in sandwich store franchises, said that while he could continue to self-fund, he doesn’t expect to have to do so during the general election.

“National leadership and the state party has reassured us they would see to whatever resources and needs we have,” Fleming said.

Though both sides are expecting a significantly lower turnout for the December general election than the Nov. 4 runoffs, Democrats believe they will have the more motivated base considering their significant gains in the House, Senate and presidential race last week.

They also believe that the nasty primary battle between Fleming and Gorman, which saturated Shreveport television in recent weeks, will hurt Republicans in December regardless of the fact that Gorman has since fully endorsed Fleming.

“Voters here know how nasty and mean that got — it’s hard to forget,” Carmouche spokesman Bert Kaufman said.

But Fleming said the primary fight is in the past and voters are looking to the future and are more concerned about which candidate has a better record on the issues that affect them most, especially on the struggling economy.

“My opponent has no business experience,” Fleming said of the longtime Caddo Parish prosecutor. “I’ve been running businesses for 26 years. … My primary position is to cut taxes, which is good for business and jobs.”

Republicans have also argued that their chances of holding the 4th district seat are actually boosted by the December election date. One GOP operative said last week that Democrats won’t have President-elect 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 took last week in the general election, the 4th district’s conservative voters will want to end the year on a positive note and keep the 4th district in the GOP column.