No Liberals in Louisiana? That's What Adam Nossiter Thinks

Discussing an upcoming special congressional election, Nossiter says the word "liberal" is "an unlikely appellation in a state where at most a handful of black politicians from the larger cities meet the definition."

More cheerleading for Democrats, albeit a "conservative" one, in Adam Nossiter's Friday story from Baton Rouge on a special congressional election in Louisiana ("Louisiana Democrat Holds His Party at Bay for a Chance at Victory").

A Democrat stands a serious chance of taking a seat in the House of Representatives from Republicans in a special election here on Saturday. But to achieve that chance of victory in this Republican fortress, the candidate has labored to dissociate himself from the Democratic Party's national leaders.

Republicans have held this South Louisiana district encompassing the state capital for 34 years, but it is now open after the incumbent, Richard H. Baker, resigned for a lucrative lobbying job. Democrats see a chance of taking it with Don Cazayoux, a conservative state legislator, former prosecutor and small-town lawyer who holds a giant fund-raising lead over his Republican rival, Woody Jenkins, a former state legislator.

In a candidates' forum here this week, the Democrat never mentioned his party's presidential candidates, spoke approvingly of Senator John McCain of Arizona and backed away from the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi of California.


Both candidates say internal polls show a close race, a sign - like Mr. Cazayoux's lead in fund-raising - of how much the political ground has shifted, as this is a district where President Bush piled up double-digit margins. Enthusiastic crowds greeted the president at Louisiana State University when he campaigned there in the last election, and the "McMansion" suburbs of Baton Rouge, a rare area of growth and prosperity in the state, are solidly Republican.

But Mr. Cazayoux has put the district in play, seeking to erase party distinctions, declaring at the forum that "pro-life and pro-family, those values are nonnegotiable," and proclaiming his support for gun rights. Similar tactics have propelled a conservative Democrat in neighboring Mississippi into the lead in another special House election set for May 13.

Bolstered by contributions from Democrats in Congress, Mr. Cazayoux has raised nearly twice as much money as Mr. Jenkins, and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is spending heavily for him.

A low-key, middle-of-the-road Democrat in a Legislature where party affiliation often seems unimportant, Mr. Cazayoux pointedly rejected "a strict party agenda" at the candidates' forum, saying, "We have to work with both sides."

Mr. Cazayoux, 44, steered clear of Senators Barack Obama of Illinois and Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York while repeatedly mentioning his endorsement by the so-called Blue Dog coalition of conservative Democrats.

That stance provoked a burst of frustration from Mr. Jenkins - "it's a tactic of the Democratic Party to talk conservative in campaigns" - and has unleashed a deluge of advertisements and fliers from Republicans and conservative groups seeking to redefine Mr. Cazayoux as a "liberal," an unlikely appellation in a state where at most a handful of black politicians from the larger cities meet the definition.

Like the rest of the media, Nossiter is loathe to identify liberals. Yet he managed to find plenty of conservatives and "religious-right" denizens in Louisiana. Admittedly, Democrats in Louisiana have a populist, pro-life tinge, but it's not exactly a paradise for the free market, as the libertarian Cato Institute noted in a 2005 report:

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation puts Louisiana in the bottom half of its rankings for state business tax climate. The Public Policy Institute of the Business Council of New York rates Louisiana 40th of the fifty states in terms of economic freedom. The state's tort-prone legal system is rated 47th.

Nossiter is not a fan of Southern Republicans. He greeted the new Louisiana Governor, the Indian-American conservative Bobby Jindal, with a distinct chilliness in October 2007. He doesn't much like Jindal's tax cuts, either.