Republicans picked up a congressional seat in southern Louisiana on Saturday, but gave another right back to Democrats in a second, much closer runoff election that was also in Cajun country.
A longtime Democratic bastion in Louisiana’s 7th District went to Republican Charles Boustany, a retired heart surgeon. With 94 percent of the precincts reporting, Boustany had 72,223 votes or 55 percent, and Democratic state Sen. Willie Landry Mount had 58,968 or 45 percent.
Farther south, Billy Tauzin III narrowly lost a race to succeed his retiring father, a Republican House of Representatives powerhouse. In the 3rd District, with 100 percent of precincts reporting, Democrat Charles Melancon had 57,609 votes, and Tauzin trailed him by barely 500 votes, with 57,092.
Louisiana has no law requiring an automatic recount of a close election. All absentee votes were included, and no clerks reported provisional ballots.
Tauzin said he was waiting for the voting machines to be opened Tuesday, but didn’t anticipate a challenge.
In his victory speech, Melancon said the close vote was a call for unity. In an echo of the campaign he added: “Young Billy Tauzin, at some point in time, he’s going to make a wonderful public servant.”
The last bits of unfinished business from the 2004 congressional election season, both races were marked by heavy negative campaigning and light voter interest. The runoffs were necessary because none of the candidates won a 50 percent majority.
Vice President Dick Cheney and Democratic Gov. Kathleen Blanco tried to drum up enthusiasm for their candidates, but parish officials said turnout was extremely low with voters apparently turned off by a relentless barrage of attack ads.
In the 3rd District along Louisiana’s swampy southern coast, Melancon, a former state representative, derided his opponent as a callow fraternity boy who was trying to inherit the seat from his 12-term incumbent father, Rep. Billy Tauzin.
Tauzin, 31, has returned fire, calling Melancon a liberal who has voted in favor of sex-education for small children.
Republicans poured money into the other race, where Boustany portrayed Mount, a state senator, as a tax-happy liberal. Mount, in turn, accused Boustany of favoring tax cuts for the rich and not caring enough about reforming health care.
Boustany will fill the seat being vacated by Democratic Rep. Chris John, who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate this year.
In a state where Bush won nearly 60 percent of the vote, Boustany ran a campaign closely aligned with the President’s positions.
“I will stand strong to protect our Louisiana values. I will always vote to protect life. I will always vote to protect traditional marriage,” Boustany said.
Democrats laud success in 'red state'
Meanwhile, in Washington, Democrats hailed Melancon’s victory as a hopeful sign for the future. “The results of Louisiana’s runoff elections make it clear that Democrats can compete and win in ‘red seats,”’ Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Robert Matsui, D-Ca., said in a statement.
Though Republicans have held the 3rd District for several years, thanks to the popularity of the retiring Tauzin, Republicans had said their best chance was in the traditionally Democratic 7th District. The elder Tauzin was elected a Democrat, but changed parties about a decade ago.
Democrats had hoped for a big turnout in the districts, which are nearly a quarter black, but they didn’t get it.
“With all the advertisements, I would have thought a lot of people are really, really turned off,” said Bobby Boudreaux, court clerk in Terrebonne Parish in the 3rd District.