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12.8.08

Expect wild ride to settle LA Fourth U.S. District

After a dull previous 14 years, denizens of Louisiana’s Fourth Congressional District can be excused if they become heart attack candidates experiencing what could be a wildly unpredictable contest for this office that looked nothing like it was projected before the beginning of the year.

Conventional wisdom had it that, before Republican Rep. Jim McCrery announced his retirement, front-running candidates would include, among Republicans, former state Rep. Mike Powell and Caddo Sheriff Steve Prator, and, among Democrats, former Shreveport Mayor Keith Hightower and state Sen. Lydia Jackson, vying for their parties’ closed primary nominations.

Instead, Powell retired from elective politics, Prator preferred his current job, and Hightower deferred entering after the only known political quantity who announced, Caddo District Attorney Paul Carmouche said he would retire from that position and seek the Democrat nomination. (Previous Democrat candidates attorney John Milkovich and minister Artis Cash are running, but appear noncompetitive.)

Carmouche is a serious candidate both by background and in demonstrated fund-raising. His law-and-order image has a better chance than most of his party to hold onto at least some white Democrats who traditionally have crossed over in droves for Republicans in national contests. At the same time, he has not had to run in a serious contest in 30 years and must broaden the scope of issue discussion into areas in which either he may not be particularly well-suited or may come under fire being linked to the liberal national Democrats. Questions also linger about decisions he made concerning what cases to pursue and that he chose to retain a private law practice interest even while serving as district attorney (prompting one aspirant to succeed him to proclaim he would be a "full-time" prosecutor).

On the GOP side, it is not so much issue preferences as it is backgrounds that have distinguished the three political newcomers. Early entrant physician Dr. John Fleming has solid conservative issue preferences but almost exclusively self-funded campaigns such as his to this point are tough to win and he operates from the smaller political base of Webster Parish. His self-made background appears to be a major point distinguishing him from his competitors, however.

Trucking executive Chris Gorman has a larger base from which to draw, emanating from west Shreveport. However, doubts circulate about the company he keeps, however, being endorsed by the likes of liberal state Sen. Robert Adley, a recent convert of convenience from the Democrats who defended legislators' attempt to raise their pay which would seem to contradict Gorman's stated conservatism. Gorman's past isn't a big draw to conservative voters as well: largely undistinguished, he was plucked from obscurity by his family to help run its trucking firm.

The last entrant burst on the scene in the most surprising manner, Bossier attorney Jeff Thompson (who, ironically, worked at Carmouche’s firm a decade ago), making his candidacy known through an endorsement by McCrery. Thompson’s Bossier Chamber of Commerce positions and work on behalf of other area candidates added to McCrery’ stamp of approval and fundraising doors have made him the biggest non-self fundraiser of three, a fact of which he reminds the electorate when possible. But McCrery’s support may not prove as hefty as imagined. It’s hard to ignore that, against no-name opponents one of whom was a Republican (under the old blanket primary system), McCrery did not even get 58 percent of the vote in 2006 and no doubt this factored into his decision to retire. Also having practiced in part as a trial lawyer, Thompson's also is a tough background for some conservative voters to swallow.

With reduced competition, Carmouche may be able to conserve resources while the others slug it out. Still, the eventual GOP nominee will emerge the favorite if two things happen: they run a civil campaign among themselves for the nomination, and then the winner in part runs a negative campaign highlighting Carmouche's faults serving as D.A. Otherwise, the nominee will have trouble gaining positive name recognition while leaving uncontested the largely issueless (according to the Democrat playbook) campaign Carmouche will try to run attempting to capitalize on his name recognition.

Despite a poll done for Fleming by an respected outside agency showing him with a big lead over fellow Republicans (which his opponents claim is suspect), and an internal poll done by Carmouche claiming he leads the entire field substantially (which is particularly suspect), any of the four still could win this race. This may provide more excitement than some would like in the Fourth District.

1 comment:

Chris B said...

Not sure about the "company he keeps" comment. Gorman was endorsed by the Conservative Victory Fund -- the nation's oldest conservative PAC