The Seven Democrat-vs-Republican House Races

With all the discussion about the BESE races and with the state GOP getting functioning majorities in both houses of the legislature during the October primaries, it appears the runoffs in the state lege races have been forgotten.

Which is a shame, because there are still seven races left, all in the House of Representatives, in which a Republican and a Democrat are head to head.

The possibility exists of a Republican sweep in those seven races. How great a possibility is up in the air. The GOP should carry at least four or five of them, with a good chance of six. And with 54 seats already in Republican hands, either because a Republican is already elected or because two Republicans are in a Saturday runoff, the margin of the GOP’s House majority weighs in the balance.

The seven Democrat-Republican battles are…

District 10: Jerri Ray de Pingre (R) vs. Gene Reynolds (D)
This district in northwest Louisiana (it’s made up of parts of Bossier and Webster Parishes) is fairly Republican-friendly territory; by registration it’s only 48 percent Democrat and it’s 68 percent white. True to form, Republicans pulled 61 percent of the vote in the primary, with de Pingre – a former teacher and current HR manager for an oil company – pulling 26 percent to grab a spot in the runoff. Reynolds, the only Democrat in the field, picked up 39 percent. de Pingre looks like the favorite here.

Reynolds is picking up checks from teachers’ unions and trial attorneys – Calvin Fayard and Glenn Armentor being two of the usual suspects who’ve joined his camp – but he’s actually reeled in less cash than de Pingre, who is getting a lot of support from LABI and other business groups (wholesalers, oil and gas and nursing homes being some of them). Both state parties are plowing money into the race; the Louisiana Democrat Party has spent upwards of $75,000 on Reynolds so far, for example.

The race has a few key issues in it, including fighting the giant salvinia infestation in local bodies of water and education, but one major difference has emerged where economic development is concerned. Reynolds’ Facebook page has this…

Gene has a common sense plan called Louisiana First that will make sure our Louisiana tax dollars are kept in Louisiana to protect jobs. Local Louisiana companies will get extra consideration in state contracts and companies that hire Louisiana workers will get tax breaks. His opponent is against this plan and in favor of sending our money to out of state companies in the spirit of “free enterprise.”

Of course, if everybody had a “Louisiana First” plan, that would mean Louisiana businesses wouldn’t have any chance of doing business anywhere else. It’s typical destructive Democrat economics, and it’s a wide-open invitation to good-old-boy corruption. But folks who don’t think these things through might be attracted by that.

The other issue that has emerged in the campaign is the question of Reynolds’ taxes. Namely, he doesn’t pay them – or at least, that’s de Pingre’s allegation. It appears that Reynolds claimed double homestead exemption from either 2006 until the summer of this year when he decided to run for State Representative. According to Louisiana law, you may only claim homestead exemption on one property at any given time. Claiming two Homestead Exemptions concurrently is illegal. The words “Tax Cheat” come to mind, or so de Pingre says, and the campaign has supplied evidence that he had one property claiming an exemption in Cameron Parish and another in Webster Parish.

District 23: Kenny Cox (D) vs. Rick Nowlin (R)
This newly-redrawn district is 55 percent black, and Nowlin, the incumbent, has in the past been able to pull a decent amount of black vote despite being a fairly conservative Republican. But Cox, who is black, is going around the district telling folks they should vote for somebody who looks like they do. The question there is whether polarizing the electorate when Nowlin has demonstrated some crossover appeal is a smart play; by doing so Cox is probably foreclosing any chance he might have of getting white voters (as a retired Army Lt. Colonel he might well have had some appeal) while Nowlin would need only about 12 percent of the black vote to squeak out the race.

Money favors Nowlin. He’s raised over $120,000 and still had $45,000 to spend as of the first of the month. Cox, on the other hand, has raised around $30,000, with another $20,000 or so coming from the state Democrat Party.

This is probably the best shot the Democrats have of beating a Republican in a House race on Saturday. But it’s not a sure shot by any means.

District 39: Don Menard (R) vs. Steven Ortego (D)
Menard, a former parish president in St. Landry, is a favorite in this race for no other reason than that he’s picked up key endorsements from LABI, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association, Associated Building Contractors, the National Rifle Association, the State Medical Society and the Louisiana Realtors Association. And that has translated into about $50,000 in campaign donations, though as of his last campaign finance report (dated Nov. 7) Menard had spent the whole lot. Ortego, on the other hand, had $12,000 in hand at the beginning of the month and has reported a nice chunk of fundraising since then – including $5,000 from Kathleen Blanco’s campaign fund and another $16,000 from the state Democrat Party.

It’s entirely possible Menard is reloading as well and just hasn’t filed his reports yet.

The district is 72 percent white and 46 percent Democrat, making it a relatively safe Republican seat given current trends. Menard outpaced Ortego 44-35 in the primary, with 21 percent going to an independent. Ortego, an architect and big promoter of “green jobs” and environmentally sustainable projects, has made a big issue out of Cajun culture, even going so far as to make his campaign announcement in French as well as English. Menard doesn’t use that gimmick.

District 56: Greg Miller (R) vs. Ram Ramachandran (D)
This race is considered by most observers to be a blowout, as Miller comes from a political family – his father was a state representative – and he finished just 55 votes shy of capturing the seat in the primary, with another Republican getting 11 percent of the vote. Ramachandran, a former Parish Council member in St. Charles, has run twice for the seat and failed to top 40 percent. It doesn’t look like he’ll fare better this time.

Miller had raised only about $20,000 for the primary, and needed almost none of it. Since then he’s trailed in a few checks from business groups, like the Louisiana Homebuilders’ Association and the Louisiana Bankers’ Association, and reeled in a max donation from anointed House Speaker Chuck Kleckley. Ramachandran had some $13,000 on hand after the runoff but hasn’t reported anything new since then.

District 62: Kenny Havard (R) vs. Ken Dawson (D)
Havard has emerged as a potential star among the new arrivals to the state legislative political scene in this campaign. He’s a business development guy for a petrochemical industry supply company, and he’s preached the economic development gospel throughout the campaign.

Dawson, an engineer and a member of the West Feliciana police jury, has said some of the same things. But this entry from Havard’s Facebook page gives an indication of what kind of race this is…

They have started their campaign with the same old false information/lies. I feel the need to set the record straight.

1. I am not for cutting funding to the Meals on Wheels Program
2. I am not for cutting funding to the Council on Aging.
3. I am not for privatization of our State Hospital and/or Prisons.

Havard is a big favorite to win, and not just because outgoing incumbent Tom McVea, who is term-limited, has backed him. The district is 60 percent white, and of the five candidates in the primary Republicans pulled 54 percent of the vote. Money-wise, Havard has gone from raising $22,000 for the primary to pulling in another $25,000 since then thanks to support from LABI, the bankers’ association, Lane Grigsby and Chuck Kleckley, among others. Dawson has never filed a campaign finance report.

District 81: Kent Hull (D) vs. Clay Schexnayder (R)
At one time this race was a five-way free-for-all in the primary, with Schexnayder surviving three other Republican opponents to claim 41 percent of the vote and make it into the runoff with Hull (26 percent). The battle in the runoff is for the 34 percent of the vote the other Republicans – Gillis Windham, Laura O’Halloran and Don Wheat – garnered.

The district, centered in Denham Springs but running down past Port Vincent into Lutcher, Gramercy and Reserve, is 52.5 percent Democrat but 80 percent white, and as such it’s a likely GOP lock on Saturday. Schexnayder has gained some positive notices in Republican circles for having done a nice job with his ground game. And he’s received endorsements and cash from most of the state’s business groups as well.

The expectation is that Schexnayer will win comfortably.

District 103: Ray Garofalo (R) vs. Chad Lauga (D)
Demographically (the district is 73 percent white), there’s no reason why Lauga should have a chance to win this one. But Garofalo is haunted by a real mistake he made in the primary; namely, a rather vicious attack on third-place finisher and Republican Mike Bayham which accused him of being on the public dole (he does grant-writing work for St. Bernard Parish, which isn’t insignificant given the slow recovery from Katrina) and living with his mother (which given the state of housing in St. Bernard is hardly the end of the world) has backfired to a large extent. Bayham refused to endorse Garofalo, instead opting to declare himself publicly neutral in the runoff. Even that was a touch-and-go prospect.

The theory from Garofalo’s camp was that by whacking Bayham he might have a chance to win the race outright in the primary – but with Bayham and two Democrats in the field, getting to 50 percent was always a low probability. A smarter campaign strategy would have reeled Bayham in as part of the team in the runoff, but bad blood has set in.

Garofalo only received 31 percent in the primary, beating Lauga’s 27 percent by a small margin. It’s expected Lauga will pull most of fellow Democrat Cullen Tonry’s 17 percent, which means Garofalo will need at least two-thirds of Bayham’s vote in order to win. That’s probable, but not a sure thing. And several Republican insiders have expressed disappointment at Garofalo’s performance after a great job of impressing the business community in the pre-primary endorsement scramble.

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