Sunday, May 04, 2008

Dems win Louisiana special election, GOP remains delusionally optimistic

By Michael J.W. Stickings

A couple of months ago, Democrat Bill Foster beat Republican Jim Oberweis in a special election to fill the Illinois House seat vacated by retiring former Speaker Dennis Hastert. Illinois's 14th, which spreads west from Chicago's western suburbs through GOP territory in the northern part of the state, has historically been a solidly Republican district.

Yesterday, Democrat Don Cazayoux beat religious-right Republican Woody Jenkins in a special election to fill the Louisiana House seat vacated by retiring Republican Richard Baker. Lousiana's 6th, which includes Baton Rouge and the surrounding area, has also historically been a solidly Republican district. Two Republicans, including Baker, had held it since 1975. It had been Democratic from 1877 to 1975, but that was back when the South was largely Democratic, a staunch bastion of Dixiecrat conservatism. (When the South finally went Republican during the realignment of the 1970s -- over civil rights and Vietnam, among other key wedge issues -- Louisiana's 6th went with it.)

These two Democratic victories in solid Republican districts, along with the special election in Mississippi's 1st in ten days, could be an indicator of where the country is headed. Needless to say, if Democrats can win districts like these, they could do extremely well in November. Moreover, as Chris Cillizza points out, there were "national overtones to the race" in Louisiana -- just as there were in Illinois. The results suggest that the trend is national and that either Obama or Clinton could do well even in parts of the country that are solidly Republican.

Caution is advised, however. The Republicans have tried to downplay the results, as expected, but it is certainly the case that both Foster and Jenkins were weak candidates. Each has a history of multiple electoral losses. Jenkins had various right-wing groups behind him, but, as Cillizza points out, he is a "controversial" figure and "local factors heavily influenced the contest." The results are great for the Democrats, but the overall national trend may not be as clear as these two special elections would suggest. (As well, Cazayoux is an extremely conservative Democrat. He could be a Republican.)


Regardless, while the Democrats' prospects are looking good, the Republicans continue to wallow in delusional optimism. It's like they have excuses for every setback without any sense of what is really going on. True, McCain could win in November -- he is a fairly strong presidential candidate, though it remains to be seen how he does in the heat of a general election campaign against a strong Democratic opponent -- and, true, Republicans are rather good at terrifying voters into voting for them, but, at the congressional level, such confidence seems excessive.

"On Wednesday," as Steve Benen reports, "House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) tried to give his Republican caucus a major-league pep-talk -- complete with a PowerPoint presentation -- emphasizing his perspective on why the GOP can gain seats in November. At the Republicans' weekly conference meeting, Boehner's presentation was called, 'Why We Can Win.'" Basically, Boehner's strategy is to nationalize congressional races, as with the special elections in Illinois and Louisiana. And, so far, he's striking out.

For your amusement, here's Boner's presentation (from Alex Koppelman at Salon's War Room, via Steve) -- if it's not working, go see it at Steve's place or the War Room:

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