Sunday, May 4, 2008

Wild Ride for Cazayoux

Posted By on Sun, May 4, 2008 at 5:09 PM

Democratic State Rep. Don Cazayoux of New Roads survived a wild ride to win Louisiana’s Sixth Congressional District seat on Saturday. Cazayoux’s victory represents a major gain for Democrats, who haven’t held that seat for more than three decades. It also cuts against the grain of recent GOP victories in Louisiana, most notably Gov. Bobby Jindal’s big win in last October’s gubernatorial primary and the Republicans’ capture of 4 other statewide offices in the same statewide primary.

Cazayoux’s victory says as much about the caliber of his opposition as it does about his own considerable political skills. His major opponent was veteran GOP right-wing war horse Woody Jenkins, a former state representative from Baton Rouge who first gained statewide prominence as the guy who held up plastic fetuses on the House floor in 1990 in support of his strict anti-abortion bill. (The bill passed, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Buddy Roemer; the veto was overridden, but the courts struck down the law as unconstitutional.)

Jenkins gained national notoriety after his narrow loss to Mary Landrieu in the contentious 1996 U.S. Senate race. He mounted a protracted — and unsuccessful — challenge to Landrieu’s victory, alleging widespread vote fraud in New Orleans at the hands of the so-called Morial Machine. Truth is, Jenkins lost to Landrieu because he wasn’t all that popular in his home base of Baton Rouge — a conclusion borne out in Saturday’s loss to Cazayoux, who beat Jenkins handily (by almost 5,000 votes) in East Baton Rouge Parish. In the 1996 Senate race, Jenkins beat Landrieu by less than 1,700 votes in EBR — while she beat him by more than 100,000 votes in Orleans Parish.

Cazayoux is very popular in the rural parts of the Sixth District, which includes Baton Rouge, the western stretches of the Florida Parishes and several parishes along the Mississippi River above and below Baton Rouge. The results by parish are interesting. Cazayoux carried all but 3 of the 9 parishes in the district, and in one of those three he lost by only 18 votes. In East Baton Rouge, Cazayoux got 33,634 votes to Jenkins’ 28,755.

Here are the district-wide unofficial results of Saturday’s special election:

Cazayoux (D), 49,702 (49.2%)

Jenkins (R), 46,741 (46.3%)

Ashley Casey (R, running as Independent), 3,718 (3.7%)

Peter Aranyosi (NP), 448 (0.4%)

Randall T. Hayes, (I), 402 (0.4%)

No doubt Jenkins’ strategists will claim that Casey’s candidacy cost Jenkins the race. Her 3,718 votes were slightly more than Cazayoux’s margin of victory. That’s an overly simplistic analysis, however.

Casey, a long-time Republican who ran as an independent, previously worked in several GOP campaigns and in the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of John Georges (who likewise bolted from the GOP to run as an independent for governor last year). It’s not a safe assumption, however, that all of Casey’s vote would have gone to Jenkins had she not run. Casey had significant appeal among young voters, and her moderate message (she called for more green space along a proposed Baton Rouge area loop) probably appealed more to folks otherwise inclined to vote for the equally moderate Cazayoux rather than the stridently right-wing Jenkins. At this point, it’s all academic.

Three other interesting notes:

First, Cazayoux’s 49,702 votes was just 804 votes shy of an outright majority, which I think underscores the notion that Casey did not cost Jenkins the race. It also speaks well of Cazayoux’s ability to get votes across the district.

Second, the total votes cast in this contest — 101,011 — is more than twice the number of votes cast in the First Congressional District contest won by Steve Scalise on the same day. In the First District, only 45,075 voters went to the polls on Saturday. Much of that difference is attributable to the fact that the First District is almost uniformly conservative (read: Republican, even though Democrats have more registered voters in the district), and therefore Scalise’s victory was never in doubt. It also reflects the likelihood that the Sixth District will remain “in play” in the November elections. Look for Cazayoux to face major challenges both by Democrats (his runoff opponent, state Rep. Michael Jackson of Baton Rouge, has already announced he will run again in the fall) and Republicans, who likely will cast about for a more acceptable candidate than Jenkins. That does not mean, however, that Jenkins won’t run again. He has always gone his own way, going back to his many years as a conservative Democrat (1971-1994).

Finally, Cazayoux’s victory gives the Democrats 3 of Louisiana’s 7 congressional seats and a big boost going into the fall national elections. In Louisiana’s Fourth District, where veteran Republican incumbent Jim McCrery has already announced his retirement, Democrats are hopeful of picking up yet another long-time GOP seat and capturing a majority of the state’s delegation for the first time in almost two decades. The biggest factor, in my opinion, contributing to the GOP’s recent setbacks is a lack of depth on the team bench. After David Vitter, Bobby Jindal and Jay Dardenne, the Republicans don’t have many viable candidates for statewide or even regional races. Steve Scalise was an exception, but Cazayoux represents a generation of moderate Democrats who, in growing numbers, seem better able to appeal to a wider audience than their Republican counterparts.

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