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Scalise almost certain, Jenkins favored to win in May

Runoff elections for Louisiana’s major party candidates for the two U.S. House seats recently vacated produced a congressman-in-waiting, but have left the other indeterminate.

State Sen. Steve Scalise bested state Rep. Tim Burns to win the Republican nomination in the Second District. Barring incredibly unlikely circumstances, Scalise will join the long line of GOP representatives in this seat next month.

The Sixth District is another matter. As expected since he was less than a hundred votes from avoiding a runoff last month to secure the GOP nomination, former state Rep. Louis “Woody” Jenkins grabbed that slot. And the results on the Democrat side, with state Rep. Don Cazayoux prevailing over colleague Michael Jackson, give Jenkins the edge in the upcoming general election.

Jenkins assuredly would have beaten the liberal black Jackson, but the white liberal Cazayoux would have an easier time of masquerading as a conservative making this a closer contest. Cazayouz is vulnerable on many issues as his voting record in the state Legislature demonstrates, so Jenkins’ optimal strategy is to turn this into a contest about ideology especially in the use of tax dollars. For example, just last session, Cazayoux voted to bust the state’s spending cap that facilitated using a lot of one-time money for recurring, now entrenched spending, to authorize building a palatial new charity hospital in New Orleans even as Baton Rouge struggles to get money to build its own new charity hospital, and to fund pay increases for “ghost” workers (vacant positions) in state government as well as to not cut those positions and continue funding them instead of allocating the money elsewhere..

While Cazayoux is not as liberal on social issues he can’t top Jenkins in conservatism on that. By contrast, Jenkins can tie Cazayoux into the biggest whipping boy among (at least among the public) concerning Congress, earmarks. In 2007 alone, Cazayoux steered $131,000 in state taxpayer dollars directly to New Roads and Pointe Coupee Parish, and perhaps more to more obscure nongovernmental organization.

Cazayoux, by contrast, will keep clear of ideology and try to make the race turn on personality. But even here, his upside is limited. His best card, saying Jenkins got fined in 2002 by the Federal Elections Commission for not reporting he got a phone bank list in his 1996 very narrow loss to Sen. Mary Landrieu, will be relevant only to his likely supporters and Jenkins can turn it around by asserting he was the victim of corruption in the 1996 contest (even as a U.S. Senate investigation could not definitively demonstrate enough fraudulent activity cost him that election).

Cazayoux might draw a false sense of security from the fact that over ten thousand more voters participated in the Democrat primary than Republican, but that would make him fall into the trap, as historically has been the case, of underestimating Jenkins’ support. Note first that Jenkins given his primary advantage was assumed to be the winner, depressing GOP turnout who will be there to vote for Jenkins in May. Also, independents were allowed to vote in the Democrat primary but not Republicans, and far more Democrats typically vote for GOP candidates in national contests than vice-versa, meaning a number of Jenkins voters who forcibly were sat on the sidelines this time will get their chance in May.

This is Jenkins’ race to lose. If he has the resources and makes the contest relentlessly ideological, it will be a GOP sweep on May 3.

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