Racial Divide – Or Competing Political Ambitions – May Cost Louisiana Democrats a House Seat

In an earlier post, I spoke about the tangled web of race, politics, and ambition in Louisiana:

The Democratic Party was overjoyed by this spring’s victory of Don Cazayoux in Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, which includes the city of Baton Rouge. The 6th district had been held by the Republican Richard Baker since 1986. Baker vacated his office in February, and the state of Louisiana held a special election to fill the seat in May. Cazayoux won, beating out Republican Woody Jenkins, and will represent the district through the end of the year.

However, there still needs to be an election to fill the seat for the term that runs from 2009 through 2010. And this is where things get complicated.

Many black Democrats in Louisiana are upset that the state and National Democratic Party haven’t been supportive of black candidates running for congressional and state-wide offices.

Things got so bad that an associate of Louisiana state representative Michael Jackson sent out “robo-calls” to Baton Rouge’s African-American neighborhoods on the day of the May special election, telling voters to “teach white Democrats a lesson” by staying home and not voting. Jackson, who had not approved the calls, had to step in to have the calls stopped.

And now Jackson is threatening to run in the November general election for the 6th district as an Independent. Jackson has reportedly run television ads stating his intention to run in the November general election.

If Jackson does run in the November general election, it could have a devastating effect on the Democrat’s chances of holding onto the seat. Cazayoux and Jackson would probably split the Democratic vote, making it easy for the Republican to get the plurality of votes and win the election.

But on the other hand: Cazayoux and the Republican candidate – who almost certainly will be white – could split the white vote. And if Jackson could get the more votes than either white candidates, he could win the election outright, even if he only gets a plurality of the votes. (In Louisiana, there is no requirement for a runoff election where a candidate must get the majority of the votes.) The 6th district’s population is 33% African American.

And that explains why Jackson might be willing to run what is a high risk but dangerous campaign as far as the Democratic party is concerned.

Jackson’s campaign has been buoyed by financial from a source that’s not so unlikely, when you think about: a rich Republican supporter. As told in the Politico,

Politics can make strange bedfellows. Lane Grigsby is a wealthy Baton Rouge construction company owner who has been a leading contributor to Republican candidates and supporter of conservative causes in Louisiana. But this election, he’s pouring money on behalf of a Democrat who is running against Rep. Don Cazayoux (D-La.) as an independent.

Grigsby is helping finance the campaign of Michael Jackson, an African-American state legislator who lost to Cazayoux in the Democratic special election primary held in April.

National Democrats view Jackson as a spoiler candidate, taking away African-American votes that would normally be going to Cazayoux. Jackson was able to win the support of most black voters during the primary, but has raised very little money since then to run an organized campaign.

Enter Lane Grigsby. Through his own 527 organization, Grigsby has bankrolled much of Jackson’s campaign, helping him get his message out to black voters in the district. Over half of Jackson’s $58,450 in fundraising to date has come from Grigsby, his family or his associates at his construction company.

Grigsby has spent money on anti-Cazayoux mailers endorsing Jackson’s campaign. The mailer features a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. on the front and attacks Cazayoux for his connections to labor groups. At first glance, the piece looks like it’s from Jackson’s campaign.

A new poll conducted for Republican challenger Bill Cassidy’s campaign between October 22-23 shows why Republicans are bullish about winning this seat. Cazayoux leads Cassidy 38 to 36 percent, with Jackson receiving 14 percent.

Note that, Jackson benefactor Lane Grigsby has donated to Republican Bill Cassidy as well.

As I said earlier, this is a high risk, high reward play by Jackson. If he wins, it will be seen as a bold, gutsy move.

But if the Republican wins, Jackson’s name will be mud among Democrats, not only in the Louisiana state senate where he represents East Baton Rouge, but in both state and national Democratic circles as well. But clearly, Jackson is wiling to take that chance.

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