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Obama might be issue for Melancon

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GAVIN JACKSON/ The Advocate Congressman Charlie Melancon

BY Gerard Shields, Advocate Washington bureau

WASHINGTON — In 1978, then-U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, D-La., was running for re-election during the mid-term election of President Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

Johnston, a moderate, put distance between himself and the liberal Carter by not seeking the president’s assistance in his campaign bid.

“He came into the state,” Johnston said.

“I didn’t need him, and I didn’t want him,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, D-Napoleonville, faces the same choice as he takes on incumbent U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La. Most political analysts, such as John Couvillon of Baton Rouge, however, say the predicament makes campaigning difficult for Melancon.

Melancon must try to hang on to one of his bases, the liberal black vote in New Orleans, while trying to secure the moderate and independent white voters throughout the rest of the state, Couvillon said.

Couvillon, who operates JMC Enterprises, is a demographer who studied the recent primary election and the Melancon votes that he said show the dilemma.

Melancon captured black votes, mostly in the southeast section of Louisiana, by 81 percent.

In the regions he will also need to knock off Vitter, Melancon didn’t fare as well, receiving 54 percent of the white Democrat and independent votes, despite facing two unknown challengers, Couvillon said.

He won five northwest Louisiana parishes by less than 50 percent, according to Couvillon’s analysis. For Melancon to win, he will have to improve among whites throughout the rest of the state, particularly in the northern and western sections hostile to Obama, Couvillon said.

“It’s a very tricky balance,” he said.

Melancon isn’t talking about the Obama factor. Two requests for interviews were not granted. His campaign manager, Bradley Beychok, said Melancon isn’t making a distinction on which voters he needs to reach.

“The campaign will transcend racial, gender and party lines,” Beychok said.

Silas Lee, a black political analyst in New Orleans, downplays the Melancon challenge. Melancon has already secured the black vote in the city, Lee said.

The challenge for the three-term congressman will be energizing the base to come out to vote for him, Lee said. Turnout for Melancon in the city may be buoyed by the bid of Democratic state Rep. Cedric Richmond to knock off incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Joseph Cao of New Orleans.

“Obama is not on the ballot, it is Melancon,” Lee said. “That’s the bigger issue. It depends on Melancon’s ability to attract voters.”

Johnston agrees. He focused more on his own campaign rather than on whether he would be tied to Carter, but acknowledges that Melancon has a more difficult task because Obama is more unpopular now in Louisiana than Carter was at that point.

“I said, ‘I’m just running my campaign,’” said Johnston, who had the benefit of name recognition as the incumbent.

Jennifer Duffy, who has been analyzing the Senate for the Cook Political Report for 23 years, said Melancon isn’t alone. All candidates running in the South face the same choice and hurdle, she said.

Vitter has been running from the start linking Melancon to Obama. He’s done so by tying Melancon’s votes for Obama efforts. Melancon voted for the president’s $787 stimulus plan. And he backed the president on the Wall Street and auto company bailouts, saying that doing nothing would have allowed the economy to collapse further.

Going into the final seven weeks of the campaign, Melancon may not want Obama’s support but he can expect to be tied to the president, who only gained four out of ten votes in Louisiana two years ago.

“I’m waiting for the ad,” Duffy said. ”I’m waiting for the side-by-side photo of them. It’s coming.”


Written by demon53

September 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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