Democrat Don Cazayoux won a special congressional election Saturday, bolstering his party's majority status on Capitol Hill and taking a seat held by Republicans since 1974.
Cazayoux, a state lawmaker, beat Republican Woody Jenkins to cap a campaign that drew attention and cash from the national parties and from interest groups in Washington. The seat opened when Republican Richard Baker, a 20-year incumbent, resigned to take a lobbying job.
With all precincts reporting, Cazayoux had 49 percent to 46 percent for Jenkins, a community newspaper publisher. Three independents combined to take over 4 percent of the vote.
Cazayoux had led in a recent poll over Jenkins, who spent 28 years as a state lawmaker, in the race to replace Richard Baker, who resigned after 20 years representing the 6th District to take a lobbying job.
Cazayoux and Jenkins share conservative positions on gun rights and abortion, but interest groups from Washington inundated local television and radio airtime with ads attacking the Democrat as a tax-happy liberal and accusing the Republican of tax evasion.
The district includes Baton Rouge and surrounding parishes. Secretary of State Jay Dardenne had predicted low voter turnout, between 15 percent and 20 percent.
Louisiana's seven-member delegation will have three Democrats for the first time since 2004, and for only the second time in 12 years.
Meanwhile, Republicans retained a seat as expected in another special election being held in the 1st Congressional District in suburban New Orleans.
State Sen. Steve Scalise beat college professor Gilda Reed, a Democrat, leading 71 percent to 27 percent with 35 percent of precincts reporting.
Also running were two independents, Anthony "Tony G" Gentile and R. A. "Skip" Galan. The seat opened up when Republican Bobby Jindal resigned before being sworn in as governor.
The close 6th District race also had three independent candidates: Ashley Casey of Baton Rouge, Peter Aranyosi of Hammond and Randall Hayes of Winnfield.
Coming in the middle of a presidential campaign, the Cazayoux-Jenkins race attracted attention and money from Washington interest groups and the national parties.
"It's of enormous national significance," said Dane Strother, a Washington-based Democratic consultant. President Bush won 59 percent of the district's vote in 2004, he noted.
"If we take yet another Republican seat, a seat that has been considered safe for years, then every 59 percent district is at play," he said.
Cazayoux, who raised twice as much money as Jenkins, was attacked in ads that painted him as a supporter of presidential contender Barack Obama and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Jenkins narrowly lost a bitter Senate race in 1996 to Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and a 1999 race for state elections commissioner. His company, Great Oaks Broadcasting, has run into problems for not paying taxes on time.
Jenkins won the endorsement of the popular Jindal but has also been connected with polarizing characters.
In 2002, the Federal Elections Commission fined him for concealing his purchase of a phone bank tied to former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke. In the 1980s, Jenkins was aligned with Iran-Contra figure Oliver North through a charity he operated, Friends of the Americas, which sent medical supplies to Central America.