"I think this is certainly a winnable district for the right Democrat, even in this short time frame."
(Associated Press) - Louisiana Democrats say they won't concede the congressional seat vacated by Republican Rodney Alexander - the largely rural northeast and central 5th District.
State Democratic Party Executive Director Stephen Handwerk said he's surprised by Alexander's decision not to run for re-election and the speed with which the special election for his seat is coming up. Gov. Bobby Jindal scheduled the election Oct. 19, with the candidate sign-up period from Aug. 19-21.
But, he said, "I think this is certainly a winnable district for the right Democrat, even in this short time frame."
Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy, Monroe Mayor Jamie Mayo, state Sen. Rick Gallot, D-Ruston, and state Rep. Marcus Hunter, D-Monroe, are among the top Democratic contenders strongly considering a run for the seat. Party leaders hope to line up behind a single, to-be-determined Democratic front-runner.
State Sen. Neil Riser, R-Columbia, almost immediately entered the race, setting up a campaign website within two days after Jindal announced that Alexander would join his Cabinet as head of veterans affairs. Riser, a funeral home owner, was quickly endorsed by Republican U.S. Reps. John Fleming, of Minden; Charles Boustany of Lafayette; and Steve Scalise of Jefferson.
Handwerk said Democrats have worked hard to "power up" their base through grassroots efforts and training sessions.
On paper, Democrats have a fighting chance. The district - Louisiana's most far-flung geographically - stretches from northeastern Louisiana to St. Landry Parish to parts of the Baton Rouge metro area and Washington Parish. It's one-third African-American and half of its registered voters are Democrats, compared to 27.5 percent Republicans, although many of the registered Democrats may no longer vote with the party.
Alexander was a Democrat when he narrowly defeated a Republican for the seat in 2002. He made a last-minute party switch to the GOP at the end of the sign-up period for the 2004 race. He won that race and was never seriously challenged again.
The Republican Party has not endorsed anyone, but Executive Director Jason Doré said "a consensus is sort of forming around" Riser.
"We can't take anything for granted, but clearly the track record is the district has been won overwhelmingly by Republicans," Doré said.
Democrats contend it's not a matter of party.
"It's going to boil down to the individual," Gallot said, especially when voter turnout is the key on a special election date without any other federal elections on the ballot.
Mayo said it will come down to whoever the voters think will best fight for the interests of the constituency."I don't think it's automatic for anybody," Mayo said. "This district is one of the poorest, if not the poorest, in the United States."