La. Democrat Wins In GOP Stronghold

By Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, May 4, 2008

A Louisiana Democrat captured a House seat held by Republicans for the previous 33 years, defeating a former GOP state legislator yesterday in a special election that Republicans tried to turn into a referendum on Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).

With all precincts reporting, State Rep. Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. had 49 percent of the vote to Woody Jenkins's 46 percent, overcoming a barrage of ads from GOP committees that tried to paint Cazayoux as an ally of Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Democrats said the result in the Baton Rouge-based district showed that an anti-Obama campaign has its limits and that they are poised for very large gains this fall.

"These Republicans can run, but they cannot hide. Our candidates have proven that they are competitive, that they are viable. This is clearly adding up to a very bad year for Republicans," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Cazayoux's victory followed that in March of Bill Foster, a Democrat who won the seat of former House speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) in a special election. Hastert had easily won reelection since 1986 before his retirement in November.

Coincidentally, the House seat Cazayoux won yesterday was also previously held by a Republican first elected to office in 1986. Richard H. Baker resigned in February to become a hedge-fund lobbyist.

With a poorly funded candidate in Jenkins, the National Republican Congressional Committee and conservative groups poured about $1 million into an advertising campaign that in the final weeks focused on linking Cazayoux to Obama and Pelosi. The ads accused Cazayoux of supporting Obama's "big government scheme" on health care and his "radical agenda" on other issues.

GOP strategists considered the Cazayoux-Jenkins race a test run of the emerging strategy to pin Obama to many House Democratic candidates, thinking that his liberal voting record and recent controversies involving statements by his former pastor make him a drag on down-ballot Democrats.

Republicans privately bemoaned Jenkins leading up to yesterday's race because he has been a divisive figure in local politics for decades. Officially, House Republicans vowed to continue attacking Democrats and attempting to paint them into a corner with Obama and Pelosi.

"When Barack Obama and Nancy Pelosi were introduced into this campaign, Don Cazayoux was leading by a large margin in the polls and Republicans substantially closed that gap. This election speaks to the potential toxicity of an Obama candidacy and the possible drag he could have down-ballot this fall," NRCC spokesman Ken Spain said.

Republicans held onto another Louisiana House seat, with state Sen. Steve Scalise easily defeating college professor Gilda Reed in New Orleans. Scalise replaces Bobby Jindal, who was elected governor of Louisiana last October, and his election was all but assured in the staunchly conservative district.

The next battle for an open seat comes May 13 in northern Mississippi, where Democrats are running unexpectedly well to replace former representative Roger Wicker (R). He was appointed to the Senate in December after serving in the House for 12 years.

The Republican candidate in that race, Southaven Mayor Greg Davis, has been airing commercials that show his opponent with Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. and accuse Democrat Travis Childers of benefiting from an Obama endorsement last month. Childers, a county court official, has run ads saying that he has never accepted Obama's endorsement and in fact has never met him.

Cazayoux, who now becomes a Democratic superdelegate to help decide the party's presidential contest, has declined to say whether he will support Obama or Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) in the race. In the campaign, Cazayoux distanced himself from Pelosi and other leading party figures, espousing conservative positions on gun rights and abortion.

In an interview earlier this week, he brushed off the effort to link him to Obama. "I think people are seeing through that. I think that's formulaic," Cazayoux said.

House Democrats now hold 235 seats, up from 203 before the 2006 elections vaulted them into the majority. Republicans hold 199 seats, down from 232 two years ago. Twenty-five House Republican incumbents are not running for reelection. Seven Democrats are making no attempt to retain their seats.

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