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Lucky again, Melancon may need more to keep seat

Now lucky twice, depending upon the political environment over the next two years, U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon may still need some luck to survive past a second term in the House of Representatives.

Democrat Melancon, of course, got lucky initially with infighting among Republicans and with the candidates’ vote distributions in 2004. He barely made the general election runoff against Republican Billy Tauzin III by narrowly besting Republican state Sen. Craig Romero, and then scraped out a win against Tauzin in large part to Romero’s bitter negative ads against Tauzin.

In his first term, Melancon set the stage for his reelection by voting more conservative than liberal in the most “deviant” Republican district in the country – no district held by a Democrat after the 2004 elections had a higher proportion of voters for Pres. George W. Bush than Melancon’s Louisiana Third District at 58 percent. But to repeat, he needed fortune to smile on him, in the form of a crippled GOP candidate, national political trends, and the weather to secure a second term.

While Melancon no doubt deplores Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, his political career got a boost by it. It helped depopulate and decimate two decidedly Republican parishes in the district, Plaquemines and St. Bernard. Almost two-thirds of their residents voted for Bush in 2004, but by election day 2006 it was estimated that the former still was short over half of its population and the latter over three-quarters. Assuming displaced people were proportionate across the political spectrum, a GOP opponent of Melancon’s could be expected to have lost (adjusted for turnout) almost 14,000 votes. (The remainder of the district largely escaped depopulation.)

National trends helped Melancon too, as a portion of the electorate was turned off by the GOP as a whole and Democrats were electorally astute enough not to publicize their own agenda which is far to the left of the preferences of the American people in general, and certainly specifically to Melancon’s constituents. But what sealed the deal was the flawed Romero as his main opponent, trying again which was the whole purpose of his scorched earth campaign against Tauzin two years ago as he thought Melancon would be easier to defeat in the future. However, some hard feelings remained against Romero by voters and, especially in a year where it was playing defensively, the GOP leadership recalling how he sabotaged Tauzin’s otherwise near-certain win was in no hurry to commit many resources to his campaign.

Lucky a second time, Melancon probably will need more in two years, and could get it. Even if he continues with casting enough conservative votes to reassure some district voters, and tries to position himself as a centrist between the Republicans and the much more radical Democrat House leadership, already he is making votes that can come back to haunt him. A shrewd 2008 opponent will bring up his support of Rep. Steny Hoyer, one of the most liberal members of Congress, for Democrat (therefore Majority) Leader and that next year he will vote to install as Speaker of the House another hard leftist, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, both of whose agenda runs squarely against Americans’ and the Third District’s, best interests. Further, nomination for the presidency by the Democrats of their frontrunner Sen. Hillary Clinton would bring such approbation on Melancon that he and a number of others of his party likely would be swept out of office regardless of what they do.

Still, maybe national Democrats will fail to nominate Clinton and even give a more moderate party member the slot, returnees to Plaquemines and St. Bernard may be slow in coming, and perhaps the Republicans will not nominate a quality challenger (state Sen. Walter Boasso probably could beat Melancon right now, but he well may have eyes on higher office). If so, Melancon may continue to be the biggest anomaly in the state among its national officeholders.

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