Jeremy Alford

Melancon to back Obama at convention

by Jeremy Alford

U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon is in Colorado this week for the Democratic National Convention to cast his vote as a superdelegate for Barack Obama. It’s a four-day affair of glitz and glamour on prime time television, with Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, expected to accept the nomination of his party Thursday evening. In addition to the elected delegates, superdelegates, largely comprised of politicians and high-level players like Melancon, are charged with selecting the nominee.

“Sen. Obama is an inspiring leader, and I look forward to working with him to forge mainstream solutions to the challenges our country faces,” Melancon says.

While Obama should win the support of all delegates overwhelmingly, he might find the Gulf Coast’s congressional corner on the convention floor a tad bare. In fact, Melancon, a Napoleonville Democrat who represents lower Acadiana in Congress, will be among the only faces Obama will find.

Rep. Don Cazayoux of New Roads, who won a special election in May to become the first Democrat in more than three decades to occupy the 6th Congressional District, will not be attending. Cazayoux has told reporters that the convention and vote is already a foregone conclusion and that he’s running in a tight race in the Baton Rouge region. But as is the case most times in politics, there’s more to the story.

Republican factions this year are trying to align Democratic candidates from conservative districts with Obama. Joshua Stockley, former president of the Louisiana Political Science Association and professor of government at Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, says the strategy to link this particular “black, liberal Democrat” to a conservative-leaning candidate is “an attempt to say that these individuals hold the same views that are far more extreme than our constituents.”

In Acadiana’s 7th Congressional District, the leading Democrat, state Sen. Don Cravins Jr., is not a delegate and won’t attend the convention. In Mississippi, superdelegate Democratic U.S. Reps. Travis Childers and Gene Taylor intend to skip the convention vote.

Even Melancon, a member of the conservative-leaning Blue Dog Coalition in Congress, quantified his support for Obama and the Democratic Party in a recent press release. Melancon has also said in the past he would ultimately support the candidate the party coalesces behind. “While I may not always agree 100 percent with my party, I am proud that we stand for improving the lives of all Americans by investing in better education, health care, jobs and infrastructure for our country and our communities,” he says.

There is one major difference, however, between Melancon and all of the other congressional Democrats bowing out from convention play. Melancon is unopposed for re-election this fall and is guaranteed another two-year term.

Republicans attacked candidates like Cazayoux and Childers as clones of Obama earlier this year, but the message didn’t seem to stick since both coasted to victory. But months have passed, and more voters are tuned in to national politics. Still, the strategy of “guilt by association” might not work, depending on certain factors, says Dr. Kirby Goidel, director of LSU’s Public Policy Research Lab. Conventional wisdom, in concert with the mumblings of pundits, suggests that Obama will drive black voter turnout to historic highs, which in turn helps Democrats.