Louisiana, West Virginia Voters Head to Primaries on Saturday

Posted August 27, 2010 at 9:12am

Voters in Louisiana and West Virginia will head to the polls Saturday for primaries in both the House and Senate.

Louisiana Senate

Despite some hype created by the eleventh-hour filing by retired Republican state Supreme Court Justice Chet Traylor, Sen. David Vitter isn’t expected to have much trouble securing the GOP’s nomination in the primary for a second Senate term.

Most public polls show Traylor polling in the single digits and Vitter easily securing the majority of votes needed to avoid a runoff in the three-way contest, which also includes frequent candidate Nick Accardo.

Traylor has not been shy about attacking Vitter for several high-profile incidents concerning the Senator’s conduct with women. But Traylor, who has worked with a shoestring budget of less than $50,000 in a month for his campaign, never had the resources to make his attacks stick, even with Democrats helping promote the criticisms.

Vitter has spent nearly $3.9 million on his re-election effort, including more than $600,000 in the month after Traylor entered the race.

Rep. Charlie Melancon is also expected to cruise in his three-way primary for the Democratic nod for the Senate seat.

The general election should be more competitive, although Vitter will still be favored. Vitter has maintained a double-digit lead over Melancon in public polls since the Congressman first made his interest known last year. In the spring and early summer, Vitter showed a nearly 20-point lead, but today his lead is considered to be in the low teens.

Louisiana 2nd District

Part of the reason why Republican Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao was able to steal this New Orleans-based seat in 2008 was because he took advantage of the disarray caused by a crowded and contentious Democratic primary. At the outset of the 2010 cycle, GOP operatives had hopes that a similar scenario might help Cao retain a seat that, by most political calculations, Republicans have no right holding. But this year’s Democratic primary has not been as heated and features only two top-tier candidates, with state Rep. Cedric Richmond the frontrunner.

Richmond has steadily become the establishment choice in Saturday’s primary after receiving early support from the Congressional Black Caucus Political Action Committee and well-known former Louisiana Sen. John Breaux (D). Richmond went on to gain the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, an endorsement from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D) and, earlier this week, the support of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu (D).

That support has been key in helping Richmond outpace fellow state Rep. Juan LaFonta in the money chase.

Richmond has raised more than $550,000 for his campaign and can count contributions from more than a dozen Democratic Members, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.). LaFonta’s best fundraising quarter was his first. His totals have shrunk each quarter since then. LaFonta has raised a little more than $300,000 for the contest but had just $14,000 on hand with three weeks to go in the campaign. Richmond had $160,000 in the bank Aug. 8.

Even if Richmond runs through most of that total to secure the primary, he won’t have a huge fundraising hurdle to overcome in the general election. Cao had a little more than $300,000 on hand Aug. 8.

The national parties have made it clear where this district lies on their priority lists. The DCCC has reserved $250,000 worth of airtime in the 2nd district, while the National Republican Congressional Committee did not include the district on a list of 41 districts where it plans to play this fall.

Louisiana 3rd District

When he finally filed for the race in late May, former Louisiana Speaker Hunt Downer became the favorite to secure the GOP nomination in the bayou-based seat that was opened up by Melancon’s decision to run for the Senate. Downer, a former gubernatorial candidate, has state and national connections that helped him raise more than $400,000 in less than three months.

But Downer has recently run afoul of Louisiana tea party activists for skipping a forum sponsored by a Baton Rouge tea party group. And Jeff Landry, a lawyer who narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2007, has tried to fan the flames over that incident as he courts the tea party movement. Landry entered the 3rd district contest about six months before Downer, has raised more than $500,000 and has not been afraid to go after Downer for being part of the establishment and for not being a true conservative. Downer has attacked Landry for shady business dealings and accused him of lying about the former state Speaker’s anti-abortion record.

Democrats are hoping that the third candidate in the race, engineer Kristian Magar, can help keep the nasty exchanges alive for an additional month by securing enough of the vote in Saturday’s GOP primary to force a runoff between Landry and Downer on Oct. 2.

Ravi Sangisetty is unopposed for the Democratic nomination. But although he has raised $600,000 for his campaign, Sangisetty faces a challenge in a Republican-friendly cycle, trying to hold on to a conservative district that gave Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) 61 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential race.

West Virginia Senate

Both of Saturday’s primaries for the Senate special election to fill the unexpired term of the late Sen. Robert Byrd (D) are more formalities than serious races.

There’s never been any doubt that popular Democratic Gov. Joe Manchin will be his party’s nominee, not to mention the prohibitive favorite in the special election.

And ever since Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito decided not to enter the race, businessman and two-time Senate nominee John Raese has been a safe bet to get the GOP nomination.

But despite early polling that shows Manchin ahead of Raese by 16 points in the November special election, Republican strategists are keeping an eye on the contest. If they can successfully tie Manchin to President Barack Obama, whose approval ratings are in the tank in West Virginia, and some of national Democrats’ more controversial pieces of legislation, such as the health care overhaul bill, Republicans think they have a chance in West Virginia. But it’s going to take a lot of resources to mount that kind of campaign against Manchin, whose approval rating is in the low 70s.

With so many other contests in play this cycle, it’s unlikely that national Republicans will divert large amounts of money to try to create an opportunity in West Virginia, so Republicans are watching to see whether the wealthy Raese will commit millions of his own money to the contest. So far, Raese has put $120,000 of his money into the race, but he’s also been reaching out to state and national fundraising networks. At one fundraiser Aug. 18 in Morgantown, he raked in $165,000.