The William Jefferson Chronicles

Obama helping other Democrats, but not Bill Jefferson
by Jonathan Tilove, The Times-Picayune
Thursday December 04, 2008, 10:17 PM

The Associated Press

President-elect Barack Obama is stumping for Democrat Paul Carmouche, who is running for the 4th District Congressional seat in Shreveport.on Saturday. However, Obama has provided assistance to U.S. Rep. William Jefferson, D-N.O., also up for re-election on Saturday.

WASHINGTON -- In his bid for a 10th term representing the 2nd Congressional District, William Jefferson has boasted of his personal relationship with President-elect Barack Obama.

And as election day approaches Saturday, Obama is trying to make his political presence felt in a Louisiana congressional race. But it is in the 4th District in and around Shreveport, not Jefferson's seat in New Orleans, where Obama has remained noticeably silent.

"Together we made history, but there is still one more important election in Louisiana on Saturday, Dec. 6. Democrat Paul Carmouche is running for Congress, " Obama says in the opening of a radio ad being played on Shreveport stations with large African-American audiences. About 30 percent of the district's voters are black, and their turnout is crucial to Democratic hopes.

Mention of Jefferson's race against three challengers also is missing in a recent fundraising e-mail message to supporters in which Obama's campaign manger, David Plouffe, calls the 4th District "the last race of the year, " according to a posting on the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee site imploring Democrats to volunteer to make last-minute phone calls on Carmouche's behalf.

Eugene Green, Jefferson's campaign manager and former chief of staff, said the campaign has not asked the president-elect to cut an ad for the congressman.

"We haven't requested it, " Green said. "It could certainly be valuable, but the bottom line is we are doing what we've been doing, " referring to what he said was a solid and proven get-out-the-vote operation. "It's a real grass-roots effort."

Unfinished business

Pushed back by Hurricane Gustav, the contests in the 2nd and 4th districts are the last two congressional elections in the 2008 election cycle, where voter turnout will be crucial.

Jefferson is the only African-American in the Louisiana congressional delegation. Carmouche, the Caddo Parish district attorney, is a white conservative looking to succeed Republican Rep. Jim McCrery, who is relinquishing the seat after 20 years. Carmouche is facing Dr. John Fleming, a Republican.

The DCCC has spent $1.15 million in the 4th District. It has spent nothing in the 2nd. Carmouche raised $111,556 from 1,150 donors through ActBlue, a leading conduit for Democratic giving nationally, more than any other Louisiana candidate, including Sen. Mary Landrieu. Jefferson raised $2 through ActBlue, a dollar each from two donors.

The focus of Obama and other national Democrats on Carmouche to the exclusion of Jefferson is perfectly understandable, for reasons party officials are happy to talk about and for reasons they are not.

Jefferson is in a majority-black district that, barring the truly extraordinary, a Democrat can't lose. And for Obama, involving himself with Jefferson, who is battling federal corruption charges for which he is expected to stand trial next year, is a no-win situation that would draw unfavorable national headlines.

"Jefferson doesn't need the help, and he's also toxic, " said Jeffrey Sadow, a political scientist at LSU's Shreveport campus. "Obama doesn't need to be associated with someone who could be out of office in the next year, voluntarily or not."

Jas Sullivan, a political scientist at LSU in Baton Rouge, agreed that "it would not be politically smart for Obama to publicly support Jefferson. It does not fit the 'change' mantra -- at least while Jefferson is still under the cloud of wrongdoing."

"He's been artful about not getting involved in stuff like this, " said Ronald Walters, a political scientist at the University of Maryland. "I think Barack is trying to husband as much of his popularity as possible."

Playing the odds

Picking up the 4th District -- a reliably Republican seat in a district where Obama won only 39 percent of the vote -- would be a real coup. And, win or lose, assisting Carmouche could gain Obama credit with conservative Blue Dog Democrats, many of them from the South, whose support he will need in Congress. After winning 95 percent of the African-American vote, Obama hardly needs to shore up his standing there.

Walters said Jefferson knows the score.

"He's a shrewd enough politician to understand what kind of situation Obama's in, " Walters said. And, practically speaking, Walters and others said, Jefferson ought to be able to fend off a challenge from the untested Republican, Anh "Joseph" Cao, as well as from Green Party candidate Malik Rahim and Libertarian Gregory Kahn without calling in the cavalry.

"I don't think it matters, " Walters said of the absence of direct support for Jefferson from Obama.

David Wasserman, who follows congressional races for the Cook Political Report, added that it would be a mistake to overrate what Obama is doing for Carmouche.

Bill Clinton used to tape radio ads for state legislative candidates, he said, and Obama did the same for Democratic Senate challenger Jim Martin, but it did nothing to abate the freefall in black turnout between Nov. 4 and the Georgia runoff election Tuesday, in which Martin was trounced by incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss.

In Wasserman's estimation, for Cao to prevail Saturday, "you'd have to have the total collapse of the Jefferson machine, and if by any chance the Republican wins, he would surely lose it in 2010."

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Jonathan Tilove can be reached at or 202.383.7827.

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