Louisiana's Special Election

Less than 24-hours before the polls close for the ationally-watched U.S. House race in Louisiana’s 6th District (Baton Rouge) May 2, the Republican nominee called to assure me predictions of his demise in the New York Times were greatly exaggerated.

“How old are you?”  joshed Woody Jenkins, former state legislator, Louisiana’s best-known movement conservative, and the GOP candidate to succeed former Republican Rep. Richard Baker  in the heated special election.  “You know better than to read the New York Times!”  

The 61-year-old Jenkins — who lost a close and much-disputed U.S. Senate race to Democrat Mary Landrieu in 1996 — was calling in response to my query about the Times article  Friday suggesting that Democratic hopeful and State Rep. Don Cazayoux “stands a serious chance” of taking the district that has been in GOP hands for 34 years.  Among other things, the Times noted, the 44-year-old Cazayoux has a major fund-raising advantage (about 2-to-1) over Republican Jenkins and that the Democrat “spoke approvingly” of John McCain.

“And if you take away the labor unions and trial lawyers — who have been pounding away at my character for the last two or three weeks — we’ve raised more than he has,” Jenkins told me between campaign stops.  He also pointed out that “this race is about momentum — after Democrats won the [former Speaker J. Dennis] Hastert district in Illinois in March and then almost won the open seat in Mississippi (which Republican Roger Wicker left for a U.S. Senate appointment), they need another win here to demonstrate momentum.

“But if we win, it’s the beginning of the end for Nancy Pelosi,” added Jenkins, pointing out that the House Speaker raised a six-figure amount for Cazayoux at a recent event in Washington DC.

Rather than talk about the attacks on his characters from the lawyer-labor lubricated Democratic campaign, Jenkins focused on issues and where he and his opponent have sharp differences.  In his words, “He’ll have to vote for Nancy Pelosi as speaker, giving her power to preside over the House and name committee chairmen.  

“This is the same Nancy Pelosi who has kept the Bush tax cuts from being made permanent and thus orchestrated what will be the biggest tax increase in history; kept the Protect America Act to permit monitoring of our enemies from coming to a vote, and won’t allow any votes that would increase the energy supply (such as drilling in the Arctic Natural Wildlife Reserves).”

Jenkins, who served in the state House of Representatives for 28 years, contrasted the national Democratic agenda that he maintains Cazayoux would have to embrace with his own good-as-Goldwater agenda:  cutting taxes (“and that includes abolishing the Alternative Minimum Tax, the capital gains yax, and the death tax”), a strong national defense and finishing the job in Iraq, and taking a free-market approach and unleashing the resources to bring gas prices down.  

The Times quoted a Republican former state legislator as saying Jenkins might be “too far at the end of the spectrum” to serve the Sixth District.  Jenkins dismissed the criticism of the Republican and pointed out that “the only endorsement that matters is that of Gov. Bobby Jindal.  He’s got 83% positive ratings here, he’s been on TV for me, and done automated phone calls on my behalf.  And he will be part of our ‘Get Out the Vote’ effort [May 2].”

As for a third-party candidate running as a conservative, Jenkins simply said “She’s not a factor.”  Regarding reports that displaced Katrina victims have settled in the Baton Rouge and registered as Democrats, the GOP hopeful said “another Democratic myth.”  Of the estimated 60,000 new voters that have registered in the district since Katrina in ’05, Jenkins pointed out that “they’re almost entirely Republican.”

Hovering over the race in a district that is about 29% African American is the insurgent stance of State Rep. Michael Jackson, loser of the Democratic primary to Cazayoux and himself African-American.  Last week, Jackson (who got an estimated 95% of the black vote in his nomination battle with Cazayoux) said he would run again in the fall.  This could well diminish the turnout in African-American precincts that the Democrat desperately needs to win.

We’ll know tonight.


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