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5.10.09

Wide-open Third District has no individual, party favorite

With Rep. Charlie Melancon having formally abandoned the seat in a quixotic quest for higher office, it’s probably not too early to talk about the fate of Louisiana’s Third Congressional District. But it needs to be done with a real understanding of the political dynamics present.

One minor candidate already has declared for the office, but it remains fairly wide open. Many believe the strongest of those who have at least once expressed at least a minimal amount of interest in the job is current Department of Natural Resources Secretary Scott Angelle, who pulled double-duty this spring as a legislative liaison for Gov. Bobby Jindal. He apparently impressed Jindal so much that the former St. Martin Parish president was held over by Jindal in the job and then given the additional duties.

But a potential Angelle candidacy should not lend itself to overstatement. While he could be a darling of the political establishment given his recent activities, it will not be easy to translate this support to voters district-wide. His political base now is five years stale that even his politically-prominent family name will have trouble resurrecting, and that base represents not even a tenth of the voting population in the district. Other elected state officials who might run have got larger population bases and more recently-imprinted name recognition, such as longtime Democrat Rep. Gary Smith from the New Orleans suburbs or new Republican Rep. Nickie Monica who prior to last year served eight years as St. John the Baptist Parish president. (It is uncertain in which party’s primary Angelle would run if he chose to.)

It’s also strange to believe, as one media analyst stated, that this district is the only seriously vulnerable open seat among the Democrats, for two reasons. First, there are at present at least six others – as with this one, all because incumbents are seeking another office – among Democrats, of which three promise to be competitive. (Of course, many more Democrats may end up retiring in the next few months, particularly as they set themselves up for a no-win situation regarding the health care issue – be part of a spectacular defeat, or win a Pyrrhic victory that will invite voters to take out frustrations on them in 2010.)

Second, while as a whole a Republican has to be considered a favorite in the district, given the lack of recent, prominent GOP figures in the district, this weaker bench strength (proportionally, more than any other majority-white district in the state, this one has more white Democrats elected at the local level) does not make a Democrat win here a long shot. This is precisely why Angelle is believed by the political class to be a strong candidate, by having crossover appeal. Its outcome will depend more on the specific candidates who win the nominations than typically is seen.

However, one thing is for sure, few if any voters will vote for a Democrat simply because, as a former simpleton governor put it, “If you put all your eggs in one basket, then you have a problem in Washington.” If they do put one in, it will be because that candidate can sufficiently distance himself from his exceptionally liberal counterparts in Washington. If the Republican nominee prevents that, he wins. Barring some eccentric issue arising or bizarre scandal erupting, it will be as simple as that.

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