Just before 10PM last night I was standing in a crowd of people at the Women’s Club in downtown Baton Rouge, Don Cazayoux’s election headquarters, anxiously watching election returns from the Louisiana Secretary of State’s web site being projected onto a screen. The print was hard to read but a friend standing next to me confirmed that arch-conservative Woody Jenkins was holding on to a slim lead with only 25 of 314 precincts in East Baton Rouge Parish left to report. On a day where turnout was an anemic 23%, Jenkins had built his lead early on the strength of hardcore support in his base in rural Livingston Parish and held on even as results from Baton Rouge slowly came in.
My friend, Frank, a school psychologist in Point Coupee Parish where Don’s wife Cherie Cazayoux is a teacher and director of individual plans for special students, had informed me earlier that the race would be called in time for the 10PM news. At 9:51 new numbers flashed up and the crowd roared: with only 5 precincts left to report Don was up by 2,000 votes! Cazayoux had led a centrist coalition of moderate working class Democrats, educated progressives, and urban black voters to a victory that pried our district out of the cold dead hands of the GOP after 35 years of right wing dominance. My daughter, Jenny, and wife, Mary Lou, who had worked the phones as Cazayoux volunteers, were elated.
What are the implications of the win? The special election was to fill the few remaining months of a seat vacated by Republican Richard Baker who quite early to take a job as a hedge fund lobbyist. Congressman Cazayoux will have to do it all over again in the Fall against another set of contenders including a black liberal and another GOP ideologue on the extreme right. For the time being, the Louisiana Congressional delegation has a reduced GOP majority (4-3 instead of 5-2). But the greatest impact of the Democratic victory is on the current presidential race. A withering volley of attack ads funded by Freedom’s Watch and their regressive ilk attempted to paint the socially conservative Cazayoux, a former prosecutor and Catholic family man, as a tax-and-spend liberal, a stand-in for Barack Obama who would sell his soul to Nancy Pelosi. On election day, mysterious robocalls went out to black voters encouraging them to teach the white Democrat a lesson by staying home and waiting to vote for their homie in the Fall. And still, Don won. The coalition that elected Kip Holden as Baton Rouge’s first African-American mayor held up. Invoking Obama and Pelosi and using every nasty tactic in Karl Rove’s playbook failed and a solid member of the American mainstream is the newest US Congressman. This result bodes ill for those hoping to hang on to their fading power by trashing decent people in swing states and districts. Today, David Axelrod is smiling.