Democrats are hoping to make a comeback

This fall will see some important races of local interest on the ballot in addition to the presidential race. The Bayou State will elect a new United States senator and the 4th Congressional District will elect a new member to the U.S. House of Representatives. And Democrats, on the heels of electing John Bel Edwards governor, are feeling optimistic of capturing one or both of the Congressional seats.

When Democrat Edwards got 56 percent of the vote against veteran Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter to win the state’s top job, Democratic leaders at the national and state levels took notice. Louisiana, once a true-blue state, had become bloodred over the past several years with Republicans occupying every statewide office, controlling both houses of the state Legislature, as well as gaining a majority on many local government entities.

But the election of a Democrat as governor has diluted the blood-red hue of the state. Democratic leaders believe the political pendulum is beginning to swing back in their favor. They cite the turmoil among Republicans and the national level and the realization that eight years of Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal and a Republican-controlled Legislature have left the state in a dire financial crisis. And while the Louisiana Republican Party’s spin machine tries to blame Edwards for the financial mess, voters are not buying it.

So when Vitter announced he would not seek a third six-year term in the U.S.

Senate, it was not surprising that some viable GOP candidates were quick to enter the race. Most analysts agree the four most viable are State Treasurer John Kennedy, U.S. Reps. Charles Boustany and John Fleming, and retired Air Force Col. Rob Maness. Two viable Democrats also threw their hats in the ring – Public Service Commissioner Foster Campbell and attorney and former candidate for lieutenant governor Caroline Fayard.

Reminiscent of the governor’s race, the four Republicans have already begun sniping at each other with Maness criticizing Kennedy and Fleming criticizing Boustany. It’s likely the sniping will get more intense as campaigns move into high gear. The smart money is on a Republican and a Democrat making it to the runoff. Campbell, with the endorsement of Edwards, seems to have the inside track to be the Democrat who may wind up in a runoff with Republican Kennedy, the early leader in the polls. But, as is ever we know, nothing cast in stone when it comes to Louisiana politics.

Louisiana politics.

The average of three recent polls on the U.S. Senate race has these results: Kennedy 29 percent, Campbell 13 percent, Boustany 11 percent, Fayard 9 percent, Fleming 7 percent, and Maness 4 percent. While there will likely be 10 or more candidates on the ballot, these six seem to be regarded as the “major” candidates. We will know for sure who is running after qualifying, which is July 20-22.

An interesting race is developing for the 4th District U.S. House seat, which includes Northwest Louisiana. Here, too, Democrats believe they have a shot. While at this writing there are five viable Republicans seeking to replace Fleming, who is giving up the seat to run for the U.S. Senate, it appears that a viable, well-financed Democrat is ready to enter the fray. Shreveport attorney Marshall Jones is the Democrat who is expected to announce this month. He is being encouraged by Democratic leaders at the national, state and local levels to run.

The five Republican candidates are Dr. Trey Baucum of Shreveport, former state Sen. Elbert Guillory of Opelousas, Shreveport City Councilman Oliver Jenkins, Shreveport attorney Rick John, and Bossier state Rep. Mike Johnson. It appears that if Jones is the only Democrat in the race, he is a shoo-in to make the runoff against one of the Republican candidates.

The 4th District was once considered one of the most conservative districts in the state, but the last two reapportionments have changed the demographics and created a more moderate district. The district has been Republican hands since 1988 when Jim McCrery replaced Buddy Roemer, then Democrat, a who was elected governor. Democrat, McCrery held the seat for 20 years, and Fleming succeeded him in 2008.

The district almost went back into Democratic hands in the 2008 election. Fleming defeated Democrat Paul Carmouche, former Caddo District Attorney, by only 350 votes out of 92,572 cast. Carmouche would likely have won if the runoff had been held at the same time as the presidential election, when Barack Obama was on the ballot drawing a heavy turnout of black voters, who traditionally vote for a Democrat.

However, the congressional races in 2008 were held under the party primary system rather than an open primary format. The primary elections were to be held on Sept. 6, but were rescheduled for Oct. 3 because of Hurricane Gustav. Therefore, the party runoffs did not take place until Nov. 4, the date of the presidential election. The district’s general election was not held until Dec. 6 when only 23 percent of voters went to the polls. On Nov. 4, voter turnout in the 4th District was 57 percent. The state has since gone back to the open primary system.

Currently there are 469,487 registered voters in the 15-parish 4th District. Of that total, 62 percent are white, 34 percent are black, and four percent are other races. By party affiliation, 45 percent are Democrats, 30 percent are Republicans, and 25 percent are Other Party/No Party.

I will look more closely at these two races in future columns.

by Lou Gehrig Burnett
via Forum News