Woody Jenkins

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Woody Jenkins : biography

January 3, 1947 –

U.S. House special election, 2008

On January 16, 2008, U.S. Representative Richard Hugh Baker, representing Louisiana’s 6th congressional district, announced that he would soon resign from Congress. The political careers of Jenkins and Baker actually began on the same day thirty-four years earlier in 1972, when both were freshman Democratic members of the East Baton Rouge Parish state House delegation.

Baker vacted his congressional seat on February 2. As a result, Governor Bobby Jindal called a special election to fill the vacancy. The Republican and Democratic primaries, again closed primaries, were held on March 8 in conjunction with the presidential primaries, with the runoff, if needed, set for April 5, and the general election on May 3.

On January 17, 2008, Jenkins announced his candidacy: Washington Watch for January 21, 2008 for the GOP nomination in the special election. Jenkins received the endorsements of Pat Toomey’s Club for Growth Political Action Committee, and Dr. James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. He also received the endorsement of the East Baton Rouge Parish Republican Party. Jenkins later received the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

In the primary, he faced Paul Sawyer, Baker’s congressional aide, Laurinda L. Calongne, president of Robert Rose Consulting; and Michael Cloonan, a veteran of the United States Navy from East Feliciana Parish.

Jenkins led in public opinion polls prior to the primary, but fell eighty-four votes short of an outright majority to win the GOP nomination. Calongne, with 7,584 ballots (25 percent), finished second and forced Jenkins, with 14,849 votes (just under 50 percent), into a runoff. Sawyer trailed with 6,924 (23 percent). Cloonan held the critical balance of 425 votes (1 percent).

In the April 5 Republican runoff against Calongne, Jenkins won handily, taking 15,179 (62 percent) of the vote to Calongne’s 9,327 (38 percent) votes. 2008-04-05 He faced Democratic State Representative Don Cazayoux of New Roads in the special election. Jenkins was immediately endorsed by Governor Jindal.

In Congress, Senator David Vitter and the three Republicans in Louisiana’s House delegation–Jim McCrery, Rodney Alexander, and Charles Boustany endorsed Jenkins. Jenkins was also supported by House Minority Leader John Boehner, Minority Whip Roy Blunt, and Assistant Whip Eric Cantor. On April 25, former U.S. Senator John Breaux, now a resident of Maryland, endorsed Cazayoux on grounds that the self-styled "John Breaux Democrat" could work across party lines. In 1996, Breaux had also opposed Jenkins in the race against Mary Landrieu.

Despite support from the state Republican establishment, some Republicans were cool toward Jenkins. Some considered him a second-tier candidate despite his long tenure in the state legislature, his near-victory in the Senate race a decade earlier, and support among social conservatives in the Louisiana GOP. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the campaign arm of House Republicans, reportedly tied his financial aid to meeting certain financial benchmarks, an unusual obstacle considering that the GOP had held this seat since 1975. Additionally, Jenkins faced potential problems from a past indirect connection to David Duke. Before the 1996 Senate general election, Jenkins’ campaign retained a firm to do automated phone calls to voters. The firm had previously done work for Duke. He was fined $3,000 by the Federal Election Commission because the purchase was paid for by his ad agency instead of directly by the campaign. Later Jenkins learned that Duke received a commission from the firm he had hired, but Jenkins insisted that he had no knowledge that Duke would profit from the transaction. However, his signed agreement with the FEC admitted that he knew Duke had used the same firm.

Cazayoux won the special election on May 3, 2008, with 49,702 votes (49.2 percent) to Jenkins’ 46,741 votes (46.3 percent). An independent Republican candidate and two minor candidates held the remaining 4.5 percent of the vote. Jenkins ran best in the City of Central, where he received 77 percent of the votes cast, and Livingston Parish, a heavily Republican suburban parish near Baton Rouge, where he received 72 percent. However, Cazayoux won by almost 5,000 votes in Jenkins’ own East Baton Rouge Parish.

Jenkins was expected to seek a rematch against Cazayoux in the election for the full term in Congress in the fall of 2008 but announced instead that he would support Republican state Senator Bill Cassidy, who unseated Cazayoux and still holds this seat.