Following Democrat Don Cazayoux's capture Saturday of a long-time Republican-controlled House seat in Louisiana, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland invoked the late House Speaker Tip O'Neill's legendary metaphor that "all politics is local."
That comment not only summarized the Democrats' success in switching party control of a second House seat in two months, following the victory of now-Democratic Rep. Bill Foster in the Illinois district that had been held by former House Speaker Dennis Hastert. But it also gave apt insight into the likely course of this November's campaign.
Cazayoux succeeded despite Republican efforts to link him to controversies surrounding the Democratic presidential campaign frontrunner, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, plus the unpopularity of the Democratic-controlled Congress and current House Speaker Pelosi.
As National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Cole of Oklahoma made clear in his reaction Saturday night, Republicans had sought "to nationalize this contest and make the election about the real life consequences of a Barack Obama presidency and a continued Pelosi-run Democratic Congress." In that effort, he said, "Republicans made substantial ground" by holding Cazayoux to a 49-46 percent win over former GOP state Rep. Louis (Woody) Jenkins.
But DCCC spokeswoman Jennifer Crider Saturday night dismissed the GOP bravado and emphasized the appeal of the Democrats' approach. Although "Republicans keep trying to nationalize local races this cycle, it doesn't work," she said.
Crider added: "You'll hear a lot of delusional spin from Republicans about this race....The Republicans' problem was that a conservative Democrat who was a great fit for his district was up against an out of touch Republican candidate."
Crider also noted that more than $1 million in advertising from the NRCC and friendly conservative groups barely moved the campaign ticker from the 49-44 percent lead that Cazayoux -- a veteran state House member -- had in his own mid-March poll.
Freedom's Watch, in particular, ran ads that were "nearly identical" to the NRCC's "message, images, and citations," the DCCC claimed in a complaint to the FEC.
The turnout of about 101,000 voters in the Baton Rouge-based 6th District ran counter to some expectations that recent campaign controversies surrounding Obama's long-time minister, Jeremiah Wright, would deflate Democratic enthusiasm.
The total count was notably larger than the 68,000-vote turnout in the first round that Louisiana Secretary of State Jay Dardenne predicted in Saturday's edition of the Baton Rouge Advocate.
The outcome also appeared to rebut concerns about a downturn in African-American turnout in the district, where the official 33 per cent black population may have been increased by migration from New Orleans following the 2005 Hurricane Katrina disaster. State Rep. Michael Jackson, an African-American who lost the primary last month 57-43 per cent to Cazayoux, has said that he will run again in the November contest for a full two-year term.
Saturday's special election runoff was held to fill the remainder of the term of veteran GOP Rep. Richard Baker, who resigned earlier this year to head a trade association representing hedge funds. Between Baker and his predecessor, former Rep. Henson Moore, the seat had been in GOP control since 1974.
The apparent enthusiasm among Democrats in a district where President Bush received 59 per cent in his 2004 reelection raised doubts about the congressional Republican strategy of grabbing the coattails of this year's presumed GOP presidential nominee, Arizona Sen. John McCain. With more than two dozen House seats open due to retirements plus his party's attempts to reclaim many of the 30 seats that they lost in November 2006, House Minority Leader Boehner has cited the boost that he expects his candidates will receive by coordinating with McCain.
Additional insight into the campaign dynamics in GOP-leaning areas will be provided by the special election runoff a week from Tuesday for the House seat in Mississippi that was vacated last December when then-GOP Rep. Roger Wicker was appointed to the Senate.
Aside from the fact the mostly rural Mississippi 1st District leans even more heavily Republican--with Bush having received 62 percent in 2004--Republican nominee Greg Davis does not appear to have the baggage that the GOP had with its candidates in the Louisiana and Illinois contests: Jenkins and Jim Oberweis, two political war horses who previously had lost statewide contests.
Democrats hope that geographic factors will benefit their candidate in Mississippi, Travis Childers, who fell narrowly short of winning a majority in the first round of voting this month. But, regardless of the Mississippi result, House Democrats already have gained two seats in 2008 that would have seemed improbable a few months ago.