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Dems Hopeful in La. House Race

By CAIN BURDEAU 1 hour ago

NEW ORLEANS (AP) For 32 years, people in Baton Rouge and the surrounding Old South plantation country have sent a Republican to the U.S. House. But incumbent Richard Baker recently left for a job in the hedge fund industry and Democrats see a chance to add to their majority in Congress.

Party primary runoffs will be held Saturday to choose candidates for the May 3 election to fill Baker's 6th Congressional District seat and Democrats are optimistic for two reasons.

One, the tide nationally has been turning against Republicans as conservative-leaning Democrats eat into the GOP base. Two, the Republican front-runner is Woody Jenkins, a Christian right candidate whose biography overlaps with such polarizing figures as Oliver North of the Iran-Contra scandal and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.

Jenkins, 61, is a community newspaper editor and former longtime state legislator who narrowly lost the 1996 Senate race to Democrat Mary Landrieu. In the current House campaign, he was forced into a runoff after picking up 49.9 percent of the vote in the March 8 party primary. His challenger is Laurinda Calongne, a lobbyist who's never run for an elected seat before.

If Jenkins wins the runoff, he's expected to face a better-financed Democrat: state Rep. Don Cazayoux, who is considered the front-runner over state Rep. Michael Jackson. Cazayoux's appeal in this gun-and-God district was validated Thursday when the National Rifle Association gave him an "A" rating.

"Republicans are rightly concerned about their prospects here given Jenkins' past run for office and questions concerning some of his associations," said David Wasserman, the Cook Political Report's House editor.

In 2002, Jenkins was fined by the Federal Elections Commission for illegally concealing his purchase of a phone bank tied to Duke. In the 1980s, Jenkins was aligned with North through a charity Jenkins ran called the Friends of the Americas, which sent medical supplies to Central America.

Jenkins would seem to have bulletproof credentials: As a state legislator, he sought to ban abortions; leading Christian conservatives, including Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council, vouch for him; his legislative record includes a bill ensuring homeowners' rights to shoot burglars and no votes for tax increases.

"If you compare Bobby Jindal's philosophy and mine, I think you'd see it's very similar," Jenkins said, likening himself to Louisiana's brand new whiz-kid Republican governor.

Others see it differently.

"In the context of the Jindal election, he may be Republican but he's really the old Louisiana," said Kirby Goidel, a political science professor at Louisiana State University.

His rivals cultivate that notion, too.

"A lot of people think it's an exciting time in Louisiana with a new governor who has run on a platform of change," said Katie Nee, Cazayoux's campaign manager. "People see Woody Jenkins as the opposite of change, as a step backwards."

New polling by the GOP found Jenkins slightly behind Cazayoux, the congressional newspaper Roll Call reported this week.

Jenkins derides national GOP unease as evidence that the "Washington bunch" was "out of touch" with the nuances of Louisiana politics.

"We poll nightly. I think we have a real good handle on what's going and I have consistently polled 25 to 12 points ahead of Cazayoux," Jenkins said.

"I don't think the Republicans will desert Woody," said Bernie Pinsonat, a political pollster with Baton Rouge-based Southern Media & Opinion Research. "This is a big race for both Democrats and Republicans. I think eventually you'll see both come in here and pour a bunch of money and you'll see a zillion negative ads."

There will also be a Saturday GOP primary runoff for another open congressional seat in Louisiana, the one left vacant when Jindal became governor in January.

Two state representatives, Steve Scalise and Tim Burns are battling for the nomination and the winner will face Democrat Gilda Reed, an adjunct professor at the University of New Orleans. It is a heavily Republican, conservative district and the seat is expected to stay Republican.


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