Got the twitch to switch? Act fast!

by Walter Pierce

If you're not a Republican, but you want to vote in the GOP's closed primaries, then you have only two more days to visit your local registrar of voters.

If you're not a Republican, but you want to vote in the GOP's closed primaries, then you have only two more days to visit your local registrar of voters. That's because the Louisiana Republican Party will only allow Republicans to vote in their Aug. 28 primaries for the U.S. House and Senate.

The primaries scheduled by the state's Democratic and Libertarian parties, meanwhile, will be open to unaffiliated voters, including those registered as other, independent or none. Republicans, however, will not be able to take part - that's unless, of course, they change their party affiliation in time for next month's closed primaries, which state law permits to happen up until close of business Wednesday afternoon.

Louisiana conducted open primaries for federal elections, where all candidates face off on a single ballot, until 2008. And, due to widespread confusion at the polls in recent years due to the closed primary system, the Legislature voted earlier this summer to return the state to a open system beginning in 2011. But for now, Louisiana has one last cycle under closed federal primaries.

In the 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses portions of Acadiana, each of the four candidates offers different attributes and strengths for their respective party primaries. None, though, are as well positioned as Houma attorney Ravi Sangisetty, who, as the only Democrat in the race, has already won his primary contest. As such, Sangisetty advances directly to the Nov. 2 ballot where he will face the victor of the Republican primary, which is considerably more crowded.

To be sure, the three Republicans in the 3rd District race are making a push to convert voters. For example, the campaign of Jeff Landry, a New Iberia attorney, has been e-mailing supporters for days about the upcoming deadline to change parties. "This is a critical election," Landry wrote in one e-mail. "(President Barack) Obama and (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi's liberal Congress continue to force their leftwing agenda down the throats of the American people. Their stimulus did not stimulate, and we still have an unemployment rate near 10 percent." Landry, in particular, has been picking up support from the religious factions of his party, most recently securing the endorsement of the political arm of the National Family Research Council, a conservative, Christian-advocacy group. Landry's campaign manager is also Phillip Joffrion, a former field director for Gov. Bobby Jindal who vacated his post as political director of the Louisiana Republican Party to join the campaign.

Former state House Speaker Hunt Downer, once a registered Democrat earlier in his political career, is directing voters on his Web site to the appropriate paperwork needed to switch parties. Downer, a Houma native, has found support among the state party's traditional base - the Jefferson Parish Republican Party has already announced its backing - and he has received donations from many of the party's biggest contributors. Kristian Magar, an oilfield manager from New Iberia and the final Republican in the race,  is running a true grassroots campaign with financials that are significantly smaller than his opponents', but he did receive the endorsement of America's Independent Party Affiliates recently, which is a conservative offshoot of the GOP with a chapter in Louisiana.

Overall, the 3rd Congressional District includes more than 400,000 voters, of which 223,500 are Democrat, 86,400 are Republican and 93,000 are defined as "other." The 139,000 voters in Lafayette Parish include 57,600 Democrats, 45,500 Republicans and 36,000 other-party voters.

The Aug. 28 election will also play host to closed primaries for the U.S. Senate race. There are three Republican candidates, including Nick J. Accardo, Chet Traylor and incumbent U.S. Sen. David Vitter. The Democratic Party has three candidates, including Neeson J. Chauvin, Jr., Cary J. Deaton and U.S. Rep. Charlie Melancon, who is vacating the 3rd Congressional District to make his bid. For the first time in Louisiana history, the Libertarian Party also has two candidates for a primary election, including Anthony Gentile and Randall Todd Hayes. William R. McShan was the only candidate who qualified for the Reform Party and will progress to the November general election, even though his party would normally be allowed to hold a closed primary.