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."

Sawyer said he has expertise in transportation issues and hopes to serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where Baker served for more than a decade.

"Even before the hurricanes, traffic was a horrible situation, and now it's been exacerbated. .. Not only is improving our roads and highways in the 6th Congressional District of Louisiana important, it also creates jobs and it improves the economy — which is why I say that transportation, jobs and the economy are my top priorities."

Sawyer acknowledges that Jenkins' advantage in name recognition puts him at a "distinct disadvantage." But, he added, "the more that I communicate to people about where I stand and that I can get the job done, it resonates."

Sawyer's campaign has sought to link Jenkins to David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who waged several unsuccessful campaigns for Louisiana office, alleging that Jenkins "secretly paid David Duke $82,500."

Sawyer's campaign cites an agreement between Jenkins' 1996 U.S. Senate campaign and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that fined Jenkins' operation for filing inaccurate financial reports. The FEC document said that Jenkins' campaign made three payments of $27,500 each — a total of $82,500 — to its media firm, Courtney Communications, which served as a conduit to mask payments for services that were actually provided by a different firm Duke had recommended to Jenkins.

Jenkins, in response, accused Sawyer of having "launched a vicious and false personal attack." He distanced himself from Duke.

"I've never supported him and never wanted, asked for, or accepted his support for anything, and I've never paid Duke one cent," Jenkins said.

The third major candidate in the Republican field is Laurinda Calongne, the founder of a health care and business consulting firm. Her campaign communications have often touted her opposition to illegal immigration and her support for curbing federal spending and for socially conservative views such as an opposition to abortion.

In one of her campaign videos, Calongne describes herself as "a God-fearing churchgoer who believes our conservative Louisiana values are something worth fighting for."

Through Feb. 17, Calongne reported total receipts of $181,000, of which $115,000 came in the form of personal loans from the candidate. In recent periodic filings to the FEC, Calongne has reported putting more of her personal funds into her campaign — including $25,000 on Feb. 21, $40,000 on Feb. 29 and $25,000 on March 5.

Calongne also reported a recent contribution from the campaign committee of Louisiana Republican Rep. Rodney Alexander, who represents the adjacent 5th District in the northeastern part of the state.

The Democrats

The five-candidate Democratic primary includes a pair of Louisiana state representatives, Don Cazayoux and Michael Jackson.

Cazayoux got a jump on the rest of the field because he began running before Baker announced his resignation in mid-January. Cazayoux, whom the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has asked to challenge Baker, raised more money ($258,000) than any other candidate in either party as of Feb. 17.

In a recent interview with CQ Politics in Washington, Cazayoux noted that he has served in the legislature for eight years and has socially conservative views. He mixes an opposition to abortion and support for gun owners' rights with more traditional party positions on economic issues.

"On the issues that matter to people — jobs, education and health care — [voters] believe Democrats can do a better job, and I believe I could do a good job," Cazayoux said.

He noted his background as a former prosecutor who has promoted legislation to aid law enforcement agencies, including measures to crack down on sexual predators.

Cazayoux said he has a "record of building coalitions across party lines." He added: "Although I am a Democrat, I've always been able to work with Republicans very well in getting things done."

Jackson's campaign identifies education as "the single most important issue" and also has identified health care and transportation issues.

Another Democratic candidate is Andy Kopplin, who headed the state's hurricane recovery agency for more than two years. Kopplin also has the unusual distinction of having served as chief of staff to Republican Gov. Mike Foster, who served from 1995-2003, and his Democratic successor, Kathleen Babineaux Blanco, who served from 2003-07.

Melissa Landry, Kopplin's communications director, said that "speaks volumes about Andy's ability as a leader."

"Andy brings an approach to getting things done that's not about politically calculated maneuvering. He's very results-oriented," Landry said.

The Democratic field is rounded out by Jason DeCuir, a lawyer who narrowly lost a state Senate race in 2007, and Joe Delatte, a construction worker.

1st District

In the 1st District, the leading Republican candidate in the primary election — and the favorite to succeed Jindal in the strongly conservative-leaning district — appears to be state Sen. Steve Scalise, who sought this seat in 2004 but later withdrew to defer to Jindal, who was overwhelmingly elected to the first of two terms. Among the conservative community in Washington, D.C., Scalise has support from the Club for Growth, the political organization that backs candidates who support cutting taxes and spending.

Scalise is running in a primary that also includes state Rep. Tim Burns; Slidell mayor Ben Morris, who has a background in the military and in law enforcement; and David Simpson, a businessman.

The lower-profile Democratic primary includes Gilda Reed, a psychology professor at the University of New Orleans, and Vinny Mendoza, a real estate investor and frequent candidate for office. Reed began running for this seat back in March 2007.

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