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GOP, Democrats Trade House Seats in La. Runoffs

Associated Press
Sunday, December 5, 2004; Page A04

NEW ORLEANS, Dec. 4 -- Republicans picked up a congressional seat in southern Louisiana on Saturday, but gave another back to Democrats in a second, much closer runoff election that was also held in Cajun country.

A longtime Democratic seat, in Louisiana's 7th District, went to Republican Charles Boustany, a retired heart surgeon. With 94 percent of the precincts reporting, Boustany had 72,223 votes or 55 percent, while Democratic state Sen. Willie Landry Mount had 58,968 or 45 percent.

Farther south, Billy Tauzin III narrowly lost a race to succeed his retiring father, a Republican powerhouse in the House. In the 3rd District, with 100 percent of the precincts reporting, Democrat Charles Melancon had 57,609 votes, while Tauzin trailed him by about 500 votes, with 57,092. Louisiana has no law requiring an automatic recount of a close election.

In his victory speech, Melancon said the close vote was a call for unity. In an echo of the campaign, he added: "Young Billy Tauzin, at some point in time, he's going to make a wonderful public servant."

The last bits of unfinished business from the 2004 congressional election season, both races were marked by heavy negative campaigning and light voter interest. The runoffs were necessary because none of the candidates won a 50 percent majority on Nov. 2.

Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic Gov. Kathleen Babineaux Blanco tried to drum up enthusiasm for their candidates, but parish officials said turnout was extremely low, with voters apparently turned off by the relentless barrage of attack ads.

In the 3rd District, Melancon, a former state representative, derided his opponent as a callow fraternity boy who was trying to inherit the seat from his 12-term incumbent father, Rep. W.J. "Billy" Tauzin. Tauzin, 31, returned fire, calling Melancon a liberal who has voted in favor of sex education for small children.

Republicans poured money into the other race. Boustany will fill the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Chris John, who ran unsuccessfully for the Senate this year.

Democrats had hoped for a big turnout in the districts, which are nearly a quarter black, but they did not get it.

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