Louisiana Primary May Be Delayed By Gustav
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- As the rapid changes to the GOP convention schedule have demonstrated, politics is quickly taking a backseat here to fears of Hurricane Gustav as it bears down on the Gulf Coast. But the storm isn't just affecting the presidential campaign, it also may well have a big impact on balloting in Louisiana.
The Bayou State's congressional primary is supposed to take place this coming Saturday, and Jacques Berry, spokesman for the Louisiana Secretary of State's office, told Capitol Briefing today that the election may be delayed by the storm and its aftermath.
"We're contingency-planning for that possibility," Berry said. "We will not make a decision until after the storm comes through. We're prepared for it, though."
If Gustav wreaks catastrophic damage on the state, then there will be obvious reasons to put off the primary. But even if the state is largely spared, it still might be tricky to pull off the balloting on time because thousands of New Orleans residents have evacuated their homes and many Louisianans may have left the state altogether as a precaution. How many would return in time to vote Saturday?
"We're worried that there won't be the maximum number of people that need to vote," Berry said. "We also need commissioners in place" to help oversee the elections, and other workers must be present to set up voting machines and ensure the polling places are ready -- if they're all still standing after the hurricane blows through.
The headline contest scheduled to take place Saturday is in the New Orleans-based 2nd district, where indicted Rep. William Jefferson (D) is attempting to hold onto his seat against multiple challengers. A survey taken in early August showed Jefferson essentially in a dead heat with three other Democrats.
Jefferson won reelection in 2006 despite the heavy publicity surrounding corruption allegations against him, but things have gotten even worse since then. He faces a December trial on federal bribery charges, and three of his family members are also being prosecuted. As of Aug. 17 he had $107,000 in his campaign account, though he was also carrying $257,000 in debt (mostly owed to himself for personal loans to the campaign).
Competitive primaries are also underway in a handful of other districts, most prominently in the 4th district seat of retiring Rep. Jim McCrery (R). Democrats view the seat as a potential pickup opportunity and their preferred candidate, Paul Carmouche, is expected to prevail in the primary. Republicans have a competitive contest, with three candidates battling for the seat.
If no candidate gets over 50 percent in each district's Saturday's primary, then a runoff between the top two candidates is scheduled to occur Oct. 4. If the first primary is postponed, Berry said it was an open question whether there would be time to print ballots and make the rest of the necessary preparations to hold the runoff on schedule.
Either way, Berry said, his office is working to make sure the voting goes smoothly, whenever it happens, so Louisianans can stay focused on the more important subject of staying safe. "We don't want them to have to worry about the election," he said. "We can take care of that."
August 31, 2008; 7:10 PM ET
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