For the first time since he defeated Marc Morial in 1990, Bill Jefferson has a significant challenger in his race for reelection. Public Service Commissioner Irma Muse Dixon has been holding fundraisers, advertising and garnering some key endorsements. Among her supporters are Gov. Mike Foster and the good government group, the Jefferson Alliance, who made a surprise endorsement of the challenger a few weeks ago. Nevertheless, the 12-year incumbent does have a formidable array of the Jefferson Parish political leadership in his corner. Supporting Jefferson in his reelection bid are Parish President Tim Coulon, District Attorney Paul Connick, Assessor Lawrence Chehardy, Gretna Mayor Ronnie Harris, Westwego Mayor Robert Billiot, Lafitte Mayor Tim Kerner, Kenner Mayor Louis Congemi and Parish Councilmember Donald Jones. Jefferson has already begun his media campaign, and direct mail is starting this week. Unless former New Orleans mayoral candidate Clarence Hunt begins to mount some type of campaign, it looks like a two-candidate race right now.
Cooksey Sees JP as Key to Victory
From the beginning of his campaign, Congressman John Cooksey has looked to Jefferson Parish as the key to his victory in the U.S. Senate race. Cooksey has enjoyed the support of Jefferson Parish Assessor Lawrence Chehardy, who is famous for his ability to deliver votes for the candidates he endorses.
Now Chehardy and other Cooksey supporters have a Jefferson Parish headquarters from which to operate the campaign. On Saturday, Cooksey opened his Metairie office at 1000 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Suite 201. Cooksey already has headquarters in Monroe, Baton Rouge, Lafayette, Hammond, Shreveport, Mandeville and Franklin and will soon be operating in Lake Charles and Alexandria.
The congressman has been buoyed by a recent internal Democratic poll showing him in second place with more than 20 percent of the vote and Sen. Mary Landrieu below 50 percent of the vote. Cooksey continues to crisscross Louisiana speaking to groups small and large in his quest to defeat the popular Landrieu. Lately, Cooksey has benefited from the strong support of Gov. Mike Foster, who hosted a fundraiser that sources report will generate $150,000 for the Cooksey campaign. One Cooksey staffer reports that "the governor is calling all of his Governor's Club members and asking them to support Congressman Cooksey." With Suzanne Haik Terrell receiving a hefty financial package from the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Cooksey needs the financial muscle of Foster and his friends to compete with his well-financed opponents in the final few weeks.
Perkins Campaign Transition
Top aide to U.S. Senate candidate and State Rep. Tony Perkins, campaign manager Jon Bargas, has departed the campaign to join a firm on the Northshore. Bargas recently left the campaign to begin work for Innovative Advertising, a public relations and media company based in Covington. This departure will undoubtedly be a setback for Perkins in the homestretch of the race. Bargas has been credited for his tireless work in overseeing all aspects of the campaign over the past few months. His job duties will now be assumed by other staffers.
In recent polls, Perkins is in fourth place; however, the candidate expresses optimism that he will make a December runoff election. "Our campaign has an unprecedented network of grassroots support that will make the difference on Election Day," says Perkins, who is considered to be the most conservative candidate in the race, with a strong base of Christian evangelical support.
Debates, Debates and More Debates
As the races for Congress and the U.S. Senate reach the final stretch, several key debates have been scheduled to help voters make up their minds before Nov. 5.
On Wednesday, Oct. 16, the Republican Party of Louisiana in East Jefferson will have a U.S. Senate candidate forum featuring only the three Republican candidates at the Pontchartrain Center in Kenner. Also that day, the Alliance for Good Government will hold forums for the candidates in the 1st and 2nd Congressional district races.
On Wednesday, Oct. 23, at the St. Bernard Parish Council Chambers, the Alliance for Good Government will sponsor the first U.S. Senate debate featuring incumbent Mary Landrieu and her challengers. Following the Alliance debate, at least three statewide televised debates will be held featuring all of the major candidates. On Monday, Oct. 28, WGNO-TV will co-sponsor a debate with other ABC affiliates in the state. On Tuesday, Oct. 29, WWL-TV will host a televised debate, and on Wednesday, Oct. 30, WVUE-TV will join other Louisiana Fox affiliates in hosting a U.S. Senate debate.
Voters will, therefore, have at least four opportunities in the final days of the race to see all of the candidates square off in a debate format. Without doubt, this relatively sleepy race will significantly heat up in the next few weeks.