A Louisiana Democrat captured a House seat held by Republicans for the previous 33 years, defeating a former GOP state legislator yesterday in a special election that Republicans tried to turn into a referendum on Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.).
With all precincts reporting, State Rep. Donald J. Cazayoux Jr. had 49 percent of the vote to Woody Jenkins's 46 percent, overcoming a barrage of ads from GOP committees that tried to paint Cazayoux as an ally of Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, and of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
Democrats said the result in the Baton Rouge-based district showed that an anti-Obama campaign has its limits and that they are poised for very large gains this fall.
With a poorly funded candidate in Jenkins, the National Republican Congressional Committee and conservative groups poured about $1 million into an advertising campaign that in the final weeks focused on linking Cazayoux to Obama and Pelosi. The ads accused Cazayoux of supporting Obama's "big government scheme" on health care and his "radical agenda" on other issues.
GOP strategists considered the Cazayoux-Jenkins race a test run of the emerging strategy to pin Obama to many House Democratic candidates, thinking that his liberal voting record and recent controversies involving statements by his former pastor make him a drag on down-ballot Democrats.
And yes, this was very much a test run for the GOP in seeing how anti-Obama ads would play out in a district like this.
If their strategy succeeds here in the Deep South over the next 10 days, GOP strategists expect to take it nationwide. "We like the way that's unfolding," Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, told reporters this week, adding that he would like to see races become debates about broad, "national" issues this year.
One of the NRCC ads in the Baton Rouge market suggested that "a vote for Cazayoux is a vote for Obama." Another 30-second spot asked simply: "Is Obama right for Louisiana? . . . You decide."
Obama's backers on Capitol Hill are watching anxiously, hoping Democratic victories in Louisiana and Mississippi will blunt Clinton's argument to uncommitted superdelegates that she would be a stronger general-election candidate.
"It'll be very interesting to see how people react to these kind of subtle, or not so subtle, quasi-racial appeals," said Rep. Melvin Watt (D-N.C.), a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus and an Obama supporter.
And who could blame them? Obama has a 37% approval rating in LA-06, and a 50% disapproval. But in spite of those numbers, and the GOP's association game, Cazayoux still won. But hilariously enough, even after losing, the NRCC claimed it was a warning shot... for the Democrats.
The NRCC continued that it had cut deeply into the supposed lead held by Cazayoux by running ads that sought to tie him to more liberal Democratic leaders such as Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, the front-running candidate for the party's presidential nomination, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California.
"This should come as a warning shot to Democrats," the NRCC said in a post-election press release. "The elitist behavior of the Democratic front-runner and the liberal and extremist positions that he and his fellow Democrats in Congress have staked their claim to, do not appear to be as salient as they once hoped."
Which is really funny, considering the highest amount Cazayoux ever got in any poll was the SurveyUSA one where he got... 50%. Even his own internal polling had him at 49%. And he finished with... 49%. Well, that's the NRCC lowering the bar, saying Democrats need to be on the defensive for winning elections in deep-red districts. LOL, I'll take 15 more of those kinds of "defensive" victories come November. :-)
Up next is another special election on May 13 in Mississippi's 1st congressional district. This district is even more red than LA-06. Bush got over 62% here in 2004, and Obama's approval here is an even lower 32%, with 58% disapproving. (And I don't think they all disapprove of him because of his positions on the issues.) But again, Democrat Travis Childers has a real shot of capturing this seat, and both parties are spending money like crazy. Dick Cheney's even flying in next Monday for a rally, so you know the GOP feels they could actually lose this seat.