Sunday, May 04, 2008

2008 U.S. House Special Elections

Yesterday in Louisiana, Republican Steve Scalise won the seat formerly held by Governor Bobby Jindal by a monster margin in a special Congressional election. However, the Democrats captured the seat that formerly belonged to Republican Richard Baker, and thus increased their margin in the current Congress, and forced me to begrudgingly right this, as back on March 9, I classifed the race as "Leans Republican. So now, I have to talk about why I am wrong. The end result was not a surprise based on the last few weeks, but I never decide to change my predictions on these special elections, so for the second time in the past few months, I made an incorrect prediction (and it looks like I may have another one to explain away next week too.)

Anyway, the victory of Democrat Don Cazayoux over Republican Woody Jenkins in the 7th District of Louisiana resembles in many ways the previous victory of the Democrat candidate in the 14th District of Illinois. In both races, a long-term entrenched Republican, who was considered very much safe in office, decided that they did not want to stay in Congress as a member of the minority party, and instead decided to quit the job the voters had elected them too, in the middle of their term, in part to join the private sector and make some big bucks. In both cases, the Republicans managed to put up a weak candidate, ones who had previously lost several races, and who were seen as overly polarizing, both personally and ideologically, and with a party far from united, saw both of them lose what should have been solid Republican seats.

Louisana, a state where the political party as an institution is by far weaker than anywhere else in America has now elected a conservative "Blue Dog Democrat" (which is different than Bill Foster's win in Illinois), and thus Cazayoux may wind up voting with Republicans on many issues in Washington. Still though, it is hard to see how a stronger Republican candidate than the ill-fated Woody Jenkins, might not have held this seat. After a special election primary, in which no candidate received a majority, Jenkins and Cazayoux advanced, and immediately, Republicans began to worry that Jenkins, a perennial candidate of sorts, might have a hard time holding the seat. Just one of the vulnerabilities that he bought into the race was a past political association of sorts in the state with white supremacist David Duke. Jenkins was outraised by the Democrat by about a 3-1 margin and polls taken just days before the election suggested that he might be headed towards a double digit defeat.

Still though, Jenkins had a loyal following among many conservative voters, and there was still hope that in a very low-turnout special election, he could possibily pull it out. On election night, Jenkins led for almost the entire evening, before the last burst of precincts delivered the contest to Cazayoux by a 49-46 margin, which was a victory nontheless, but perhaps one that was significantly closer than many political observers anticipated. The fact that a Republican candidate running in the speical election as an Independent captured four percent of the vote, may very well have cost the GOP the seat, as there were many Republicans who either could not bring themselves to vote for the controversial Jenkins or decided to sit the special election out.

So now, Cazayoux has incumbency, which will be a benefit to him in November's general election. However, he is far from assured of winning a full-term. For one thing, the Republican candidate for the fall election will not be decided until September and with Jenkins' defeat, the GOP might be far more motivated to make sure someone else, with a better chance of victory, is their standard bearer in November. Additionally, Cazayoux will have to contend with the fact that the Democrat he defeated in the special election primary, an African-American state legislator named Michael Jackson, is intending to stay in the race, either as a Democrat candidate, or perhaps even as an Independent. In fact, Jackson's campaign ran ads just before this special general election hinting at such a thing and many believe that such was a design to keep the African-American vote down, and deny Cazayoux a victory. As seen by the margin, that came somewhat close to happening.

Finally, in this very conservative district, a general election turnout, spurned by a Presidential contest, could be too much for a newly elected Democrat to survive, and a Republican candidate, especially if they are not Woody Jenkins, could benefit. As it is, Republicans ran ads against Cazayoux trying to tie him to Presidential candidate Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. The fact that the race turned out as close as it did might be indication that the effort had some effect, but still it was not enough, as Cazayoux certainly did not embrace those national Democrats in the campaign.

In conclusion, at a time where Republican hopes continue to increase in regards to keeping the Presidency, the terrain for the U.S. House contests continues to look more unfavorable and needless to say, the fact that Republicans have been forced to consistently play defense in special elections, and since the November 2006 elections, have now lost an additional three seats, will make it harder to regain a majority or to be in a position to be close to regaining that majority. Next week's special election in Mississippi (a race where in March I very prematurely classified as Safe Republican, which is what it should have been of course) could bring Republicans just under 200 seats headed into November.

One just never know what is going to happen in special elections, in terms of turnout, etc, but when the GOP voters nominate candidates like Jim Oberweis and Woody Jenkins in those elections, they begin by putting themselves behind the eight ball.


At 3:18 PM, Blogger Unknown said...


Nice story. I just disagree with one part of it. We haven't played defense with every special election since November of 2006. We crushed the Democrats in GA-10 and put MA-5 into play.


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