Tired of politics? In Louisiana, it's not over yet


Saturday, November 13th 2004, 10:30 am
By: News On 6


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The candidates are still running, the accusatory ads still airing in Louisiana, where the final two seats in the new Congress will be filled Dec. 4 in run-off elections.

Retired heart surgeon Charles Boustany Jr., a Republican, and Democratic State Sen. Willie Mount are rivals in one district. The other pits Republican W.J. (Billy) Tauzin III, whose father is retiring from the seat, against Charlie Melancon, a Democrat and former state lawmaker who once headed the American Sugar Cane League.

Both political parties are advertising in what amounts to a political postscript to national elections that increased the GOP majority in the House by three seats. Several strategists in both parties say the most likely result of the Louisiana races is a split that would leave the balance between Republicans and Democrats unchanged.

In one of the campaigns, both parties focused on taxes in their advertising.

``When it comes to voting for higher taxes, Willie Mount is champion,'' says a television ad by the National Republican Congressional Committee.

``Charles Boustany: tax cuts for the rich, higher taxes for us,'' counter the Democrats.

The attacks diverge in the other race.

``Is there a tax Charlie Melancon hasn't voted to raise?'' challenge the Republicans.

Democrats are out to paint Tauzin as inexperienced and perhaps even too immature for a seat in Congress _ and untruthful as well.

``Thirty-year-old Billy Tauzin III can't decide what he wants to be when he grows up,'' began an ad that started airing on Friday. ``He denies being a corporate lobbyist, but is registered as one.''

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Retirements are responsible for both races.

Tauzin's father is stepping down after nearly a quarter-century in Congress, including a stint as chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. In an adjacent district, Democratic Rep. Chris John gave up his seat to make an unsuccessful run for the Senate.

Under Louisiana law, all candidates for Congress run in open primaries on Election Day. If no contender gains a majority, the top two vote-getters advance to a run-off, regardless of party.

Boustany led in first-round voting in one race, with 38 percent.

Tauzin had 32 percent to claim first-round advantage in the other. Democrats had to scramble to avoid an early loss in that seat. The party's congressional campaign committee intervened on Melancon's behalf during the primary, despite the presence of two other Democrats in the race.

The ads said Melancon had a record of supporting the sugar industry from ``unfair trade.'' Melancon squeezed into the runoff by 2,071 votes, avoiding a third-place finish that would have made the Dec. 4 balloting a competition between two GOP rivals.

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The House Republican and Democratic campaign committees together spent about $70 million this fall in campaign activity classified as independent under the law _ meaning there was no coordination with the candidates.

That doesn't mean the expenditures had no impact on the races, though. The money was targeted at 35 or 40 races that both parties identified as competitive and often exceeded the amount spent by the candidates.

Republicans far outspent their rivals in this vital category, showing expenditures for television, mass mailings and other campaign activities of about $40 million. The DCCC spent $30 million and had to borrow $10 million to finance its efforts. Spokesman Greg Speed would not say how much of that money remains unspent.

By far the largest concentrated effort was in Texas, where the two parties spent about $9.5 million total.

There, a Republican redistricting plan forced five veteran Democrats into difficult races, and the DCCC spent $4.4 million in an attempt to minimize its losses.

In the end, Rep. Chet Edwards was victorious, but Reps. Martin Frost, Charles Stenholm, Nick Lampson and Max Sandlin lost their seats, some by large margins.