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Blacks gave seat to, can take it away from, Cazayoux

As election returns rolled in last Saturday, the good news for U.S. Rep.-elect Democrat Don Cazayoux was he got elected. The bad news was, the same returns showed how difficult it will be for him to get a full term in November.

There are three groups he needed especially to thank for this good fortune. Two were the campaign of his Republican opponent Louis “Woody” Jenkins and the National Republican Congressional Committee who independently yet equally as stupidly promoted Jenkins with personality-driven, rather than issue-driven, efforts. Cazayoux’s state House record firmly tags him as a liberal Democrat yet, except for a half-hearted effort on health care, none of this was raised during the campaign.

And the health care issue was brought up in the context of the overall, failed strategy of linking Cazayoux to national liberal Democrats. The problem was, the organizations needed to reinforce their inference; i.e. because Cazayoux calls himself a Democrat and is occasionally seen with national Democrats who are liberal and therefore out of touch with Louisianans’ desires and best interests, unless provided with some kind of proof that he shared their same issue preferences – and his voting record gave plenty of examples – many prospective voters either would not make the connection or would not be convinced of it, especially since Cazayoux went around portraying a misleading picture of himself by stressing the few issues on which is actually is in tune with his new district. With his constantly bleating “I'm a pro-life, a pro-Second Amendment, pro-family” candidate, Jenkins and House Republicans allowed him to define himself unchallenged.

As a result, any decent Republican (other than Jenkins) challenging Cazayoux in the fall has a better-than-even chance of defeating him as long as they exploit his weakness on most issues. This point is reinforced by the behavior of the group to whom Cazayoux really owes thanks – black voters.

An analysis of 35 Baton Rouge precincts of 98 percent or more black voters shows they voted at disproportionately higher rates in the general election than in the primary runoff where Cazayoux defeated fellow state Rep. Michael Jackson. Turnout in the general election was almost 50 percent higher overall; that is, Cazayoux’s number of votes received in the general election were about half-again the total he and Jackson got in the runoff. But among these precincts, 80 percent of those had higher turnouts than 50 percent and several more than doubled in turnout general election to runoff. Therefore, for the runoff relatively lower black turnout benefited Cazayoux, and in the general election relatively higher black turnout did the same. In that sense, he lucked out.

Using this convention again, the good news for white Cazayoux was that black Jackson’s call for a boycott of Cazayoux was trumped in part by former elected official and Baton Rouge black political broker Cleo Fields who blessed Cazayoux on a ballot he passed out, and blacks provided the backbone of his triumph. The bad news was Cazayoux owes this election to black voters who very easily can be taken away from him in the fall.

Jackson has said he will run then as an independent, skipping a Democrat primary where national Democrats supported Cazayoux, especially if black Sen. Barack Obama gets the Democrat presidential nomination. This puts Cazayoux between a rock and a hard place: if Obama wins and Jackson follows through, Cazayoux is a sure loser. But if Sen. Hillary Clinton wins the nomination instead and Jackson feels like he cannot win without Obama heading the ticket because many black voters will be disengaged out of disappointment and disgust, Cazayoux loses many of them, too – not because they’ll vote for the GOP candidate, but because they won’t vote at all, and the lesson of the special election is that, against the candidate he matched up best with, even then he needed exaggerated black turnout to win. And a better quality Republican opponent makes his position even worse.

Deluded Democrats will read far too much optimism into this election, but Cazayoux and national Democrats are politically aware enough that know they have a problem. Dealing with a quality Republican and Jackson (and by extension, Fields) will be daunting, and those who argue Cazayoux’s chances are difficult to get a full term assess the situation correctly.

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