Katrina still reverberates as La. votes

Voters in two Louisiana congressional districts — one that is highly competitive and one that is not — will go to the polls Saturday to begin the process of filling vacancies in the U.S. House of Representatives and the effects of Hurricane Katrina will be on their minds.

In the state's 1st District, the winner of a four-candidate Republican primary almost certainly will succeed Bobby Jindal, who was elected governor last October and vacated a Republican-leaning district in and near New Orleans that hasn't been represented by a Democrat in more than 30 years.

But a much more competitive contest is expected in the state's 6th District in and around Baton Rouge, where Richard H. Baker resigned Feb. 2 to take a private sector position.

Saturday's vote may not immediately produce nominees because large candidate fields in three of the four major-party primaries make it difficult for the front-running candidates to capture the overall vote majorities needed to claim outright victories.

If runoff elections between the top two vote-getters are needed, they will be held on April 5, followed by the special general election on May 3. If runoff elections are not required, the special general election will be held April 5.

CQ Politics recently applied a rating of "Leans Republican" to the 6th District, which gives the GOP a small but not decisive edge.

Candidates in both parties are heavily stressing infrastructure improvements in a district that has absorbed so many new residents following Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The changes put additional strains on the transportation network in the fast-growing state capital region.

The Democratic candidates generally have been stressing health care and education more than their GOP counterparts, while the Republican candidates by and large also are emphasizing curbs to illegal immigration more than the Democrats.

The leading Republican candidate is former state Rep. Woody Jenkins, a figure in Louisiana politics for several decades — and the most politically experienced candidate in either party.

Jenkins served 28 years in the Louisiana state House, mostly as a conservative Democrat. During that time he ran three unsuccessful campaigns for the Senate — including a narrow loss in 1996 as the Republican nominee against Democrat Mary L. Landrieu. When Jenkins was a Democrat, he waged conservative challenges to Democratic Sens. J. Bennett Johnston in 1978 and Russell Long in 1980.

Jenkins reported raising $80,000 through Feb. 17. That's not the most in the field, but then again, someone of Jenkins' high name recognition need not outspend his opponents to prevail in an abbreviated primary campaign.

Jenkins' list of contributors is heavy on Louisiana residents but also included some national conservative figures such as Paul Weyrich and Morton Blackwell, a longtime Republican Party official in Virginia.

Republican Paul Sawyer is emphasizing his experience as a longtime aide to Baker, for whom he worked for 16 years (the last 11 as chief of staff) before becoming an official with the Louisiana economic development department. Sawyer also ran most of Baker's re-election campaigns; while the congressman has been supportive of his campaign, Baker didn't want to meddle in the primary election process and hasn't endorsed Sawyer or any other candidate.

"I've got the experience to hit the ground running," Sawyer said. "As I tell folks here, I can get the job done from day one."

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