Player of the Week: Don Cazayoux
Don Cazayoux isn't in Congress yet. But the Louisiana state House member is trying his best to get here, running as the Democratic nominee in the May 3 contest to succeed resigned Rep. Richard Baker (R) in the Bayou State's 6th district. The race between Cazayoux and ex-state Rep. Woody Jenkins (R) has grown unexpectedly tight, with Cazayoux leading in multiple surveys despite the district's clear GOP tilt.
But what makes Cazayoux the Player of the Week? It's not so much about anything he's done in the last seven days, but rather about events that have occurred in nearby Mississippi and - in a more tangential way - in the Democratic presidential primary.
On Tuesday, Democrats came within a percentage point of stealing Mississippi's 1st district seat away in a special election to replace Roger Wicker, who has been appointed to the Senate. Prentiss County Chancery Clerk Travis Childers (D) beat Southaven Mayor Greg Davis (R), 49 percent to 46 percent, but since neither man reached 50 percent they will proceed to a May 13 runoff. Like Louisiana's 6th, this Mississippi district is decidedly Republican. President Bush won it by 25 points in 2004 (he won the Louisiana seat by 19 points).
For lack of a more graceful term, Republicans are freaking out right now. The cash-strapped National Republican Congressional Committee has to pour more resources into the Mississippi race to avoid a repeat of the party's embarrassing loss last month in Illinois. And the closeness of the Mississippi race makes the Cazayoux-Jenkins battle even more important.
When journalists write "trend" stories, they look for groups of three. Three makes a "pattern." So if the GOP loses special elections in Illinois, Mississippi AND Louisiana, you can expect to see a blitz of stories about the potential "Democratic wave" and how seemingly-safe GOP seats all over the map are about to come into play.
All that means Cazayoux is Enemy No. 1 for Republicans right now. The NRCC has been hitting him every day for weeks on a variety of issues, and the conservative group Freedom's Watch has been running TV ads criticizing Cazayoux for his positions on taxes and health care (one ad has prompted the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee to file a complaint with the Federal Election Commission).
A different Freedom's Watch ad brings us to the other interesting angle in this Louisiana race -- the GOP's effort to tie Cazayoux, who is positioning himself as a conservative, to Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Speaking of health care, the ad says, "Where does Don Cazayoux stand? With Barack Obama for a big government scheme."
Will this tactic work? Operatives in both parties are waiting to find out. If Cazayoux loses, supporters of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) will add another plank to their argument that Obama is unelectable in November because he can't win in conservative and rural districts. If Cazayoux wins, Obama forces can say those attacks just won't work. Either way, this contest is important in a lot more places than just Louisiana.
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