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Third District Race could determine U.S. House majority

Even though this contest is not on the ballot this Saturday, the frontrunners in the Louisiana Third Congressional District race already are playing for keeps concerning an election which may gain national attention for weeks after the national election day.

Incumbent Democrat Charlie Melancon and Republican state Sen. Craig Romero square off again from 2004, when Melancon barely squeaked by Romero in the primary and then barely beat his opponent, lobbyist Billy Tauzin III, in no small part to Romero’s attacking Tauzin after the primary through ads. Romero seemed to think this necessary out of a belief Tauzin had done the same prior to the primary.

It also might have been a strategy looking forward to this year. In a GOP-leaning district, he knew that if the Republican Tauzin got in he might not have been dislodged by anybody for a long tine, so his one chance was to get a more vulnerable Democrat elected at first, and then take him on again this year. In fact, Pres. George W. Bush scored 58 percent of the vote in this district, the highest he would draw in any district won by a Democrat in 2004.

Whatever bad feelings among the party faithful Romero might have produced by his scorched earth strategy appear to have melted away. Influential national figures in Louisiana such as Republicans Rep. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter have endorsed him, and the party in the state appears to be working full steam ahead for him.

Melancon’s strategy has been to make him appear to be a conservative. Reviewing his 2005 voting record, by one influential ideological scorecard of voting he did vote more often conservative than liberal on some key votes. Yet he obviously was more liberal than other Republicans in the state (all of them scoring 90 or better while his was a 61) and he voted against significant legislation that would help Louisiana and the country (such as against the 2006 budget – which set broad spending and revenue targets for five years, limiting discretionary spending to $843 billion in fiscal 2006, and requiring $70 billion in tax cuts and $34.7 billion in savings, legislation that would have required more fiscal accountability for the United Nations, tort reform, allowing the expansion of refining capacity in the U.S., deficit reduction, and measures to increase control of borders and combating terrorism).

Romero, however, has been a bit up-and-down in this department as well. While in 2005 he graded out on the Louisiana Legislature Log as the second-most conservative/reform senator in the state Senate with a score of 74, he dove to a 37 in 2006, with only about a dozen senators, all Democrats, with more liberal/populist scores. (In part, however, this was because he missed several votes which on the scorecard are counted as “nays” on votes where the conservative/reform position was a “yea” vote.)

In all, three questions will determine who will win:

  • Can Melancon masquerade enough as a conservative?
  • Did Romero turn off too many Republican voters by his 2004 strategy which cost the party the seat?
  • Who, if either, is advantaged by the demographic changes wrought by the hurricane disasters of 2005 (as of May St. Bernard Parish had lost three-quarters of its population while Plaquemines Parish had lost three-eighths of its; in 2004, against Tauzin eclipsed Melancon by around 3,500 votes in those two in a race he lost by about 500)?

    And it is a contest that could draw the country’s notice. This year is the last cycle of Louisiana having general election runoffs after the national election day courtesy of its weird nonpartisan blanket primary system. With Democrat gains expected in the House of Representatives and a good chance, with some minor candidates in this contest while other Louisiana House races very likely to have settled any partisan competition on that date, that this one will go to a general election runoff, could it be that the projected balance of power between the parties will be 217-all with this one for all the marbles to control the House in 2007-2008?
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